'Global tobacco pandemic worse today than 50 years ago'

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 June, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 June, 2010, 12:00am

The heads of state and prime ministers who receive the Tobacco Atlas compiled by Dr Judith Mackay and her associates are stunned by what they read.

Most shocking is that, after three decades of legislation and intense campaigning by Mackay and like-minded people across the world, global consumption is rising and the industry is getting bigger. 'In 2010, during every day of the year, 12 million cigarettes per minute will be smoked around the world and tobacco will kill 6 million people, 72 per cent of them in low and middle-income countries,' the most recent edition reads.

'The total number of smokers is increasing mainly due to the expansion of the world's population. Unless dramatic steps are taken to control tobacco, about 6.3 trillion cigarettes will be produced this year.'

It forecasts that the figure will rise to between 6.7 and 6.8 trillion by 2020.

The atlas lists the five biggest markets in 2007 - China with 2.2 trillion, the US with 357 billion, Russia with 331 billion, Japan with 259 billion and Indonesia with 239 billion. The big five lag two others in terms of annual consumption per person over 15 - in Ukraine and Greece, it is more than 2,500 cigarettes per year.

The atlas lists the five corporate giants of the industry - China National Tobacco Corporation with a global share of 32 per cent in 2007, followed by Philip Morris International with 18.7 per cent, British American Tobacco with 17.1 per cent, Japan Tobacco International with 10.8 per cent and Imperial Tobacco/Altadis with 5.6 per cent. Philip Morris/Altria spent the most on lobbying - US$105.7 million between 1999 and 2006.

'By the year 2012, the global tobacco market is projected to increase to US$464.4 billion, up 23 per cent from US$378 billion in 2007. If Big Tobacco were a country, it would have the 23rd largest [gross domestic product] in the world, surpassing the GDP of countries like Norway and Saudi Arabia.'

King of the mountain is Marlboro, with annual sales in 2007 of 472.7 billion sticks, more than four times the second and third, Mild Seven and L & M.

The key reason why governments are reluctant to control the tobacco industry is a fear of losing revenue. But, the atlas says, its total economic costs reduce national GDP by as much as 3.6 per cent, an estimated US$500 billion drain on the world economy each year.

The costs include health care, losses in productivity, absenteeism, fire damage, increased cleaning costs, environmental harm from large-scale deforestation, pesticide and fertiliser contamination and discarded litter. One third of fires in the world are caused by careless smoking.

The atlas concludes on an apocalyptic note. 'The tobacco pandemic is increasing and shifting from developed to developing nations. The global pandemic is worse today than 50 years ago and will be even worse in another 50 years unless extraordinary efforts are made now.'

It forecast that, if present trends continue, 'the cumulative number of tobacco deaths will reach 520 million by 2050. If the proportion of young adults taking up smoking halves by 2050, the figure will be 500 million; if adult consumption halves by 2050, the figure will be 340 million'.