Tobacco Control Measures Are Effective, Affordable Strategies To Reduce Chronic Disease Deaths Globally
A new study published in the December 5, 2007, issue of the scientific journal The Lancet shows that tobacco control measures, including higher tobacco taxes, smoke-free workplace laws, advertising bans and large health warnings, are among the most effective and affordable strategies nations can adopt to reduce deaths from chronic diseases, such as cancer and heart disease. This new study sends a powerful message to governments around the world that these scientifically proven measures to reduce tobacco use are both effective and cost-effective ways to protect the health of their citizens. It should spur nations to quickly implement these measures, as called for by the international tobacco control treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.
The study looked at 23 countries that account for 80 percent of the chronic disease burden in the developing world and calculated how many deaths could be prevented over 10 years by implementing health interventions to reduce tobacco use and salt intake. The study also calculated the financial costs of these interventions. It specifically examined the impact of implementing four key elements of the tobacco control treaty: increased taxes on tobacco products; enforcement of smoke-free workplaces; larger health warnings on tobacco products combined with public awareness campaigns about the health risks of smoking; and comprehensive bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship. The study reached these conclusions:
-- In the 23 countries studied, implementation of these tobacco control strategies would prevent 5.5 million deaths over 10 years (from 2006 to 2015). Most deaths averted would be from cardiovascular disease, followed by deaths from respiratory diseases and cancer.
-- The health interventions to reduce tobacco use and salt intake are highly cost-effective. The cost of implementing these interventions would be less than 40 cents (US) per person per year in low- and middle-income countries and between 50 cents and $1 (US) per person per year in upper middle-income countries. Across the 23 countries, the mean implementation cost per person was 36 cents per person, which on average was equivalent to 0.5 percent of government spending on health, according to the study. (In fact, with the exception of public awareness campaigns, these measures will cost governments virtually nothing to implement and, with the case of tobacco taxes, will actually raise revenue.)
If anything, the study understates the number of lives that would be saved and the financial benefits to governments and taxpayers from implementing effective tobacco control measures. The study examines the lives that would be saved from current smokers quitting, but not lives saved by preventing children from starting to smoke or from reducing smoking intensity among current smokers. Even more lives would be saved if countries implemented other measures called for by the tobacco control treaty, such as the regulation of the contents of tobacco products. The study also does not appear to have examined the financial benefits of implementing tobacco control measures, including the revenue raised by increasing tobacco taxes and the savings from reducing tobacco-related health care costs. These financial gains far exceed the minimal costs involved in implementing the tobacco control measures studied.
The Lancet study is an important reminder that science and experience have identified effective and affordable measures to reduce tobacco use around the world. What's needed is the political leadership to implement these measures. To date, 151 nations have expressed their commitment to do so by ratifying the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.
There is an urgent need for action. Unless current trends are reversed, tobacco use is projected to kill one billion people worldwide this century. Tobacco will claim five million lives worldwide this year, and that number is projected to double by 2020, with 70 percent of these deaths in developing nations. However, public health experts have concluded that 300 million deaths from tobacco can be prevented in the next 50 years by cutting adult cigarette consumption in half worldwide.