The worldwide tobacco epidemic and what’s being done about it

Worldwide, we are going through a ‘Tobacco Epidemic’, which is having serious consequences for health organisations.  Some countries such as the UK and the US are at a later stage and have already realised the consequences of this epidemic.  Others are at earlier stages of this looming healthcrisis.

Worldwide, there are 1.3 billion people who smoke tobacco, 80% of who live in lower economic backgrounds.  By 2030, it has been predicted that 8 million peoplewill die every year as a result of tobacco.  The World Health Organisation (WHO) claims that in the 21st century tobacco could kill a billion people or more.

The stages of the worldwide tobacco epidemic
The stages of the worldwide ‘Tobacco Epidemic’

This graph shows the different stages of the ‘Tobacco Epidemic’.  It shows clearly the trend between smoking and smoking related deaths, which tend to lag about 20 years behind, with the development of chronic conditions.  US, the UK and many northern european countries are in stage 4 of this epidemic, where smoking has decreased, but the deaths are still catching up.  Our health services are overwhelmed by smoking related illnesses such as lung cancer (and other cancers), cardiovascular disease or emphysema.

On the other hand most less economically developed countries are in stages 1 and 2.  Sub-saharan Africa is mainly found in stage 1 and north africa and most of asia is found in  stage 2.  This leaves an impending health crisis for these countries as smoking related diseases catch up.  In Asia, on average more than 35% of males smoke, with levels sch as 53% in China and 47% in Vietnam.  If trends continue, deaths caused by tobacco per year could reach 2 million in China alone.  However, China is in an unusual situation with very low female smoking rates (5%).  This means they are less likely to have high female smoking related deaths.

This ‘Tobacco Epidemic’ is being targeted by the WHO, who launched ‘The World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) which aims to control tobacco consumption.  In May 2011, WHO FCTC had 173 parties representing 87% of the world’s population.  WHO FCTC are using the WHO’s MPOWER six control measures to help reduce tobacco use.  By 2011, 1.1 billion people were covered by at least one MPOWER measure.


Monitor – Monitor tobacco use and prevention policies

Protect – Protect people from tobacco smoke

Offer – Offer help to quit tobacco use

Warn – Warn about the dangers of tobacco

Enforce – Enforce bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship

Raise – Raise taxes on tobacco

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