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Smoking Declines While Africa Lights Up

FILE: Cigarette butts and residue fill a smoking receptacle, Thursday, April 15, 2021.

The world has 1.1 billion smokers and 200 million more people who use other tobacco products.

But the new report from Vital Strategies and the Tobacconomics team at the University of Illinois at Chicago found a decline in smoking rates from 22.6 per cent of people in 2007 to 19.6 per cent in 2019, they said, the first since the report began in 2002.

The tobacco habit, the report says, is rising among adults in at least ten African countries, as well as among young people.

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

But the figures from the Tobacco Atlas report – described as a potential tipping point by the authors – mask 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.

One analyst says tobacco companies deliberately target developing nations, especially their younger people, hoping to hook them into their revenue streams.

"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 report author.

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

The report also suggests that the tobacco industry is targeting Black people in the United States with menthol cigarette promotion. The authors backed the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's plan to ban their sale.