Global Use of Tobacco Among Men Declines for the First Time: WHO Report
Thu, April 22, 2021

Global Use of Tobacco Among Men Declines for the First Time: WHO Report

The global use of tobacco among men is seeing a downward shift for the first time, according to a World Health Organization report, indicating the efficacy of government-led efforts to protect people from tobacco-related harm / Photo by: Marcin Jucha via 123RF

 

The global use of tobacco among men is seeing a downward shift for the first time, according to a World Health Organization report, indicating the efficacy of government-led efforts to protect people from tobacco-related harm.

The "powerful shift" marks a turning point in the work against tobacco, said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom, promising to maintain their close alliance with nations to continue the downward trend.

"For many years now we had witnessed a steady rise in the number of males using deadly tobacco products," Adhamom said in a statement. "But now, for the first time, we are seeing a decline in male use, driven by governments being tougher on the tobacco industry."

 

The Fall of Tobacco Use

In its global report on trends in the prevalence of tobacco use, the WHO says the overall use of tobacco worldwide has fallen by about 60 million people—from 1.397 billion in 2000 to 1.337 billion in 2018.

Reduced number of women using these products is seen as the major driver for the downward trends, with the 346 million tobacco-using women being reduced to 244 million during the same period.

As female tobacco use declined, the use among their male counterparts rose by around 40 million. The WHO report shows the 1.050 billion men who use tobacco in 2000 expanded to 1.093 billion in 2018 to account for 82% of the world's current 1.337 billion tobacco users.

However, the report also indicates that the rise in male tobacco users stopped and is slated to decline by over a million this year to 1.091 compared to levels seen in 2018. The downward trend will continue until 2025 with five million fewer male users or 1.087 billion.

"By 2020, WHO projects there will be 10 million fewer tobacco users, male and female, compared to 2018, and another 27 million less by 2025, amounting to 1.299 billion," the WHO said in a press release, noting that about 60% of countries have been seeing a decline in the use of these products since 2010.

The report on the worldwide tobacco epidemic covers the use of cigarettes, pipes, cigars, waterpipes, smokeless tobacco products such as bidis and cheroots, and heated tobacco products.

Meeting Targets

Ruediger Krech, Director of Health Promotion at WHO, said the decline in the overall tobacco epidemic shows the governments' ability to "protect the well-being of their citizens and communities" when they implement and strengthen comprehensive evidence-based actions.

These effective actions include the taxation of tobacco products and controlled smoking areas in public places, among other legislation preventing the exposure of tobacco to children.

Krech further maintained that the action-based decline should encourage governments to meet the global target of a 30% decrease in tobacco use by 2025.

But even with the positive trend, no country is on track to meet the set target, the WHO official said. 

"We cannot be satisfied with a slow decline when over a billion people are still using tobacco," Krech explained, as per a UN press release. "We must dramatically accelerate tobacco control measures to prevent current and future generations from tobacco use."

He also noted that tobacco use accounts for over eight million deaths every year—that's about half of its users worldwide. More than seven million of these fatalities are from direct tobacco users and about 1.2 million are non-smokers exposed to second-hand smoking.

The UN press release adds that most deaths related to tobacco use occur in low and middle-income countries (areas targeted for "intensive tobacco industry interference and marketing).

Ruediger Krech, Director of Health Promotion at WHO, said the decline in the overall tobacco epidemic shows the governments' ability to "protect the well-being of their citizens and communities" when they implement and strengthen comprehensive evidence-based actions / Photo by: kenishirotie via 123RF


Making Additional Efforts

Prevalence rates of female tobacco users will exceed the 30% global reduction target, but that won't be enough to pull the decline among male users (merely 18.8%) by 2025. With this current trend, the world will likely see a reduction of 23.4% after five years.

While reductions in tobacco use among men are proving difficult to achieve, the steady increase in the number of male tobacco users peaked in 2018 and is set to decline from then on.

"All countries will, therefore, need to make additional efforts on evidence-based actions from the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO-FCTC), including more effective monitoring, [to] reverse the tobacco epidemic.," the WHO report says.

"Given the tenacity of the tobacco industry in countering tobacco control efforts, countries need to actively put in place evidence-based policies [continuingly], and to be vigilant even after policies are in place and progress is made on reducing tobacco use."

Failure to do so will lead to progress being "easily undone," and every delay may put millions of lives at risk of premature death and disability from tobacco.


The WHO report asserts that reducing tobacco use is more than a global health priority; it involves economic, sustainable development, and human rights issues. Not only will smoking drain trillions of dollars from the global economy, but it will also undo the achievements of efforts towards universal health coverage.

Tobacco use will drive the increase of people falling ill to long-term diseases, reduce incomes, and push health care costs that will worsen poverty in poor households—threatening sustainable developments.