Tobacco and sustainable development

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How does tobacco use affect sustainable development?

Tobacco use has devastating health, social, environmental and economic consequences. It is a major barrier to sustainable development. Tobacco use impacts health, poverty, global hunger, education, economic growth, gender equality, the environment, finance and governance.

Each year, more than 7 million people die from tobacco use. This figure includes the 900 000 that die from exposure to secondhand smoke. Over 80% of these deaths occur in low- or middle-income countries. These countries bear almost 40% of the global economic cost of smoking from health expenditures and lost productivity, estimated at over US$ 1.4 trillion.

How does tobacco impact health and economic prosperity?

Tobacco damages health and causes illnesses and premature death, which leads to increased health care costs and lost productivity. Up to half of all tobacco users will die of tobacco-related causes. Tobacco users die prematurely, losing about 15 years of life.

Tobacco use increases health care costs associated with smoking, which are estimated at US$ 422 billion. It also leads to lost productivity because of resulting illness and premature death.

How does tobacco impact women and children?

The tobacco industry targets women, and exploits children. They employ concepts and images that appeal to women, portraying the use of tobacco as glamorous or relating to equality, women’s rights or success, and product design that attracts female tobacco users. They also use online platforms, including social media, to reach women and influence their perceptions about the social acceptability of smoking.

Tobacco farming impacts both women and children. About 7 in 10 tobacco farm workers are women, and around 1.3 million children aged 14 and under are exploited through tobacco farming in the 12 major tobacco growing countries. Women and children are in danger because of growing and producing tobacco, which often involves hazardous chemicals. Child labour is critical for the tobacco industry, and they rely heavily on children, meaning many of them miss out on school because they are working in tobacco fields.

Women and children are at risk of dying from secondhand tobacco smoke. Almost 900 000 people die from exposure to secondhand smoke every year, and about half of the world’s children and women are regularly exposed to secondhand smoke.

How does tobacco impact poverty and hunger?

Poor people are more likely to use tobacco, which increases poverty and undernutrition. Tobacco use is most common among the poor, who have limited access to financial resources and health care. For people from poorer backgrounds, spending on tobacco means fewer resources are available to spend on basic needs such as food, education and shelter. Using tobacco affects health and causes illnesses, which leads to poverty for people suffering from these illnesses, as well as their families because they have to spend on health care. This often occurs in countries where food insecurity and productivity are major concerns.

Growing tobacco uses agricultural land that could have otherwise been used to grow food, which causes undernutrition. In some countries that grow tobacco, data show that more than 10% of people are undernourished.

How does tobacco impact the environment?

The tobacco industry harms the environment in many ways, which threatens both the environment and public health.

Pesticides, growth regulators, and chemical fertilizers are heavily used in tobacco farming, which cause environmental health problems. Such problems are more common in low- and middle-income countries because of lax regulations. Tobacco waste contains over 7000 toxic chemicals, including cancer-causing compounds. Also, emissions from tobacco smoke contribute thousands of tonnes of cancer-causing compounds, toxicants and greenhouse gases to the environment.

Tobacco growing also contributes to deforestation. One tree is lost for every 300 cigarettes/1.5 cartons produced. Deforestation can contribute to climate change, by removing trees that eliminate carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Litter from cigarettes fouls the environment. Cigarette consumption around the world generates up to 680 million tonnes of discarded waste annually. Cigarette butts account for 30–40% of all items picked up in annual international coastal and urban clean-ups. Material that leaches out of these filters is toxic to aquatic life.