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Picture: 123RF/GIN SANDERS
Picture: 123RF/GIN SANDERS

London — Smoking rates have declined globally for the first time on record, according to a report from a public health campaign group and US academics.

However, the figures from the Tobacco Atlas report — described as a potential tipping point by the authors — masks growing numbers of smokers in parts of the world, as well as increased tobacco use among young teenagers in almost half of the countries surveyed.

Globally, there are 1.1-billion smokers and 200-million more people who use other tobacco products, the report from Vital Strategies and the Tobacconomics team at the University of Illinois at Chicago found.

That’s a decline in smoking rates from 22.6% of people in 2007 to 19.6% in 2019, they said, the first since the report began in 2002.

However, population growth in Africa, the eastern Mediterranean and the Western Pacific regions means there are still increasing numbers of smokers in various areas, the report says. Moreover, prevalence is rising among adults in at least 10 countries in Africa, as well as among young people.

“The industry is still preying on emerging economies in ways that will lock in harms for a generation or more,” said Jeffrey Drope, public health professor at the University of Illinois and a co-author of the report.

Children were also being targeted in a number of countries, resulting in a rise in smoking among teenagers aged 13-15 in 63 of 135 countries surveyed, he said. About 50-million people in this age group, both boys and girls, now use tobacco products, he said, and the impact of new products such as e-cigarettes and flavoured products was not yet fully understood.

Falling prevalence globally was a sign of the effectiveness of strong tobacco control measures, such as increased taxes,but many lower-income countries did not have tough enough restrictions in place, he said.

The data also shows tobacco use caused almost 8.7-million deaths in 2019, and approximately $2-trillion in economic damage. While more than half of the deaths are in high-income countries, this is expected to change if cigarette use continues to rise in lower-income areas.

The report also suggests that the tobacco industry is targeting black people in the US with menthol cigarette promotion. The authors backed the US Food and Drug Administration’s plan to ban their sale.

Reuters

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