WHO report on the global tobacco epidemic, 2011

Tobacco use continues to be the leading global cause of preventable death. It kills nearly 6 million people and causes hundreds of billions of dollars of economic damage worldwide each year. Most of these deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, and this disparity is expected to widen further over the next several decades. If current trends continue, by 2030 tobacco will kill more than 8 million people worldwide each year, with 80% of these premature deaths among people living in low- and middle-income countries. Over the course of the 21st century, tobacco use could kill a billion people or more unless urgent action is taken.

The World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) demonstrates global political will to strengthen tobacco control and save lives. The WHO FCTC is a legally binding global treaty that provides the foundation for countries to implement and manage tobacco control programmes to address the growing epidemic of tobacco use. As of May 2011, the WHO FCTC has 173 Parties covering 87% of the world’s population, making it one of the most rapidly embraced treaties in United Nations history.

Key findings

Substantial progress continues to be made in applying the MPOWER measures. Roughly 3.8 billion people (55% of the world’s population) are covered by at least one measure at the highest level of achievement, including 1.1 billion people covered by a new policy since 2008.

  • Mass media campaigns, an MPOWER measure assessed for the first time for this report, were conducted in 23 countries, omprising a significant 1.9 billion people, airing a best-practice anti-tobacco mass media campaign in 2009 or 2010.
  • The greatest progress as measured by population coverage has been in the area of health warnings on tobacco packaging; three more countries with a total population of 458 million have enacted pack labelling laws at the highest level.
  • Although subnational mass media campaigns were not formally assessed, it is likely that a substantial number of people were exposed to anti-tobacco advertising conducted at the local level.
  • National-level smoke-free laws covering all public places and workplaces have been newly enacted by 16 countries with a total of 385 million people; an additional 100 million people are newly protected by comprehensive smoke-free laws at the subnational level.
  • Comprehensive services to help people quit tobacco use have been applied by one additional country, with a total population of 76 million.
  • Complete bans on all tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship are now in place in three more countries, with a total population of 80 million.
  • An additional 115 million people are now living in countries with the recommended minimum tobacco taxes, and 26 countries and one territory now have taxes constituting the recommended minimum of 75% of retail price.
  • Despite the progress being made by countries in levying revenue-generating tobacco taxes, governments still inadequately fund tobacco control activities. Governments collect nearly US$ 133 billion in tobacco excise tax revenues, but spend less than US$ 1 billion on tobacco control, a deficit that is most evident in low- and middleincome countries.


The WHO FCTC demonstrates continued global commitment to decisive action against the global tobacco epidemic, which kills millions of people and costs hundreds of billions of dollars each year. A total of 173 Parties to the WHO FCTC, covering about 87% of the world’s population, have made a legally binding commitment to implement effective tobacco control policies. The WHO FCTC provides countries with the necessary tobacco control tools that, when implemented and enforced, will reduce tobacco use and save lives. The status of the MPOWER measures presented in this WHO Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic, 2011 show that it is possible for any country, regardless of political structure or income level, to implement an effective tobacco control programme to reduce tobacco use. The progress in reaching the highest level of the MPOWER measures is a sign of the growing success of the WHO FCTC and provides strong evidence that there is political will for tobacco control on both national and global levels, which can be harnessed to great effect.

Many countries have made significant progress in fighting the epidemic of tobacco use, and can be looked to as models for action by those countries that have not as yet adopted these measures. Countries must continue to expand and intensify their tobacco control efforts, ensuring they have both the financial means and political commitment to support effective and sustainable programmes.

Although there has been substantial progress on tobacco control in many countries, more work needs to be done. The successes already achieved can and must be expanded upon so that all people worldwide are fully protected against the harms of tobacco use. Continued progress will stop millions of people from dying each year from preventable tobacco-related illness, and save hundreds of billions of dollars a year in avoidable health-care expenditures and productivity losses. It is up to us to make sure that this occurs.

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