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As a global anti-tobacco lobby grows amid concerns of unabated tobacco-related deaths, researchers are training the spotlight on tobacco consumption and its toll on public health and national economies.
In a new report by the University of Chicago, researchers who have created a Tobacco Atlas after surveying 63 countries say global smokers now exceed 1.1 billion people. The World Health Organisation (WHO) says tobacco causes more than 8 million global deaths annually. More than “7 million of those deaths resulting from direct tobacco use, while around 1.2 million are the result of non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke.”
While, according to researchers, global smoking prevalence is dropping, from 22.6 percent in 2007 to 19.6 in 2019, Africa and other developing parts of the world are recording an increase in tobacco consumption, the report says.
“Some African countries are seeing an increase in adult and youth smoking. What we’ve seen in Africa is the slowest decline in smoking prevalence of any region,” said Professor Jeffrey Dope, lead author of the Tobacco Atlas and a professor of public health at the University of Illinois.
“The tobacco industry is aware of this. They are working very hard to convince governments that tobacco is very important for the economy. Unfortunately, they’re having some success,” Dope said during a Zoom report launch early this month.
“Global progress is threatened by growing smoking rates among children aged 13 to 15 in many countries and by tobacco industry tactics such as targeting poor countries with weak regulatory environments,” the researchers said.
“We have countries where female teens smoke more than male teens and adult females, which is happening in different parts of the world,” said Violeta Vulovic, senior economist at the Institute for Health Research and Policy at the University of Chicago.
“The tobacco industry aggressively markets to children, especially through flavour products. And through social media, especially influencers, the industry clear understanding that the peer-to-peer effect is perhaps the most effective way to get kids to try smoking,” Vulovic said.
African countries continuing to rely on tobacco for forex earnings, findings contained in the Tobacco Atlas are not likely to persuade governments to slow down the production of what across the continent has been called “green gold.”