Despite recent estimates that anti-tobacco efforts have saved 8 million American lives since the US Surgeon General issued the first health warnings nearly fifty years ago, a new report released Wednesday shows that smoking on a worldwide scale has actually "never been higher."
The analysis, which comes from the University of Washington and was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, shows that there are more smokers and more cigarettes being consumed across the world now than ever, particularly in places like China and other nations with fewer controls on the tobacco industry and less strict public health regulations.
From 1980 to 2012, adult smokers increased from 721 million to nearly 1 billion and the number of cigarettes smoked went from about 5 trillion to 6.25 trillion.
As the Seattle Times reports:
The study, which is one of the most comprehensive ever to examine global tobacco use, shows that the remarkable reductions in smoking rates in the United States and other wealthy countries have been offset by a growing epidemic in the developing world. [...]
The rise in the number of smokers reflects both population growth — particularly in nations such as China and Indonesia — and the tobacco industry’s heavy marketing in poorer nations, experts say.
Aggressive marketing is one thing, but as Common Dreams reported last month, the tobacco industry has also been targeting the governments of nations attempting to increase control and monitoring of their cancer-causing products by using international trade agreements, financial pressure, and legal wrangling to undermine those efforts.
“It’s premature deaths ... and the total global burden of suffering — of preventable suffering — that we’re talking about here,” Ruth Malone, who studies global tobacco issues at the University of California, San Francisco, told The Seattle Times.
The World Health Organization currently estimates that tobacco kills 5 million people a year worldwide and is the leading cause of terminal cancer cases for men and women.
“This study is not a reason for a sense of hopelessness,” added Matthew Myers, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “It is, however, a clarion call that in those countries that have not yet implemented tobacco-control policies, the death toll from tobacco is going to be devastating.”