Smoking prevalence remains leading risk factor for early death worldwide

A new study published in the journal The Lancet, finds smoking rates continue to be a challenging public health threat as nearly one billion people smoked daily in 2015 – one in four men and one in 20 women worldwide. This is despite decades of tobacco control policies and more than half a century of unequivocal evidence of the harmful effects of tobacco on health. 

Smoking’s impact worldwide

The year 2015 marked smoking as the second leading risk factor for early death and disability worldwide.  This addictive habit causes one in 10 deaths throughout the globe with half of them in just four countries – China, India, Russia and the United States.  Since 1990, smoking has claimed more than 5 million lives every year.  In lower income countries, its contribution to disease burden is growing as the tobacco industry’s pursuit of new smokers is complicated by the rapidly changing shifts of those countries social, demographic, and economic markets.  The tobacco industry is always seeking new customers and they are now targeting aggressively previously untapped consumers in these areas of the world.

Results from the study

This study relied on a systematic analysis from the Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors 2013 Study (GBD 2013) from 1990 to 2013 of 188 countries where researchers collated diverse data sources synthesizing them to come up with comprehensive, comparable estimates of daily smoking prevalence by sex and age group.

Findings from the study showed worldwide, the prevalence of daily smoking among men was 25% and just 5.4% among women.  This represents a reduction of smoking among men of 28.4% and 34.4% in women since 1990.  There were significant rates of decline in smoking prevalence from 1990 to 2005 than in between 2005 to 2015 while only four countries had significant increases in smoking prevalence between 2005 to 2015 – Congo and Azerbaijan for men and Kuwait and Timor-Leste for women.  In 2015, 11.5% of deaths globally were attributed to smoking of which 52.2% took place in the previously mentioned four countries of China, India, the U.S. and Russia.  Smoking was also ranked among the five leading risk factors for mortality in 109 countries and territories in 2015 which rose from 88 countries in 1990.

The number of women who smoke continues to lag behind significantly in comparison to men – roughly only one in every 20 smokers are women who lit up daily in 2015.

Challenges faced by continued use of tobacco products

Even though impressive strides have been made over the years in the fight to reduce the number of individuals taking up the habit of smoking, there are still challenges to be hurdled in regards to demographic forces poised to heighten smoking’s global toll.  This is where it is important to continue to push through continued progress in preventing people lighting up to begin with and to promote cessation among those who already do. 

Smoking is widely recognized as a risk factor for premature morbidity and mortality that can increase a person’s risk for numerous health conditions – lung cancer, coronary heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, emphysema, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and chronic bronchitis. 

It is well known that the staggering negative effects of smoking extend well beyond the health of individuals and a country’s population as a whole.  The more people there are who smoke in a region of the world, the greater the rise in billions of dollars attributable to lost productivity and the greater the threat on already resource-constrained health-care costs. 

Getting a handle on snuffing out smoking

Over the past ten years, there have been substantial expansion and strengthening of tobacco control initiatives that have strategized on using a wide range of effective interventions and policies to address the smoking epidemic.  Some of the most successful strategies have been the following:

·Increased taxation on tobacco products

·Bans on smoking in public places

·Instituting smoke-free zones

·Restrictions on marketing and promoting cigarettes

·Community-wide and nation-wide smoking cessation interventions

·Including both text and pictorial warning labels on tobacco products

To substantially loosen the hold of the global tobacco industry’s grip, there will need to be continued and sustained focus on comprehensive tobacco control policies around the world.  To keep smoking prevalence rates low in areas of the world which have not experienced a smoking epidemic yet, intensified efforts will be required to effectively and aggressively enforce policies and laws.  Even though the war against tobacco is far from won, success is possible – we owe it to our children and future generations who have not yet started to smoke and hopefully never will.