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New Tobacco Atlas Estimates Tobacco Industry Earned $35 Billion in Profits in 2010

Tobacco Atlas Book Cover

Imagine if your industry produced a product that contributed to the deaths of almost 50 million people worldwide in the past 10 years.

The fourth edition of The Tobacco Atlas, unveiled in late March in Singapore at the World Conference on Tobacco OR Health, estimates the six leading tobacco companies made more than $35 billion in profits in 2010, more than the gross domestic product of some countries. The Tobacco Atlas, a collaboration between the American Cancer Society and the World Lung Foundation, also offers an estimate of the number of cigarettes smoked during the past decade: 43 trillion.

In 2011, according to The Tobacco Atlas, tobacco use killed almost 6 million people, with nearly 80 percent of these deaths occurring in low- and middle-income countries. When considering 2010 deaths with tobacco industry revenue, the tobacco industry realizes almost $6,000 in profit for each death caused by tobacco.

A delegation from the American Cancer Society, led by CEO John R. Seffrin, PhD, attended the conference, joining other leading tobacco control experts from around the world in calling for action to end the tobacco epidemic that reportedly causes one person to die every six seconds.

“We can no longer deny or accept the massive human and economic harm caused by tobacco,” Dr. Seffrin says.

Michael Eriksen, Sc.D., lead author of the new edition of The Tobacco Atlas and knows who to blame for the prevalence of tobacco worldwide.

“The tobacco industry is very good at what it does,” he says. “It markets, it influences policy, it discourages tobacco control efforts, and it makes smoking attractive and affordable.”

Dr. Eriksen estimates 1 billion adults use tobacco products around the world. While he reports declines in smoking rates among developed countries, in less prosperous nations, smoking rates are on the rise. This problem is compounded, Dr. Eriksen says, by the fact that “those countries are the least able to deal with the aftermath of a lifetime of tobacco use.”

Hana Ross, PhD, a co-author of The Tobacco Atlas and strategic director for international tobacco control research at the Society, says the tobacco industry is branching out and expanding its markets through the sales of smokeless tobacco products. That has resulted in a 60 percent increase in the past decade of alternative nicotine delivery systems.

Reducing tobacco use worldwide will be challenging, Dr. Eriksen says, unless governments put into place proven strategies including restricting marketing and access and increasing the price of tobacco.

“We know what to do,” he says, “we just need to take the proven steps and have the courage to treat tobacco commensurate with the harm it causes.”

The Tobacco Atlas provides a comprehensive resource for people worldwide to better understand tobacco products and their use, the economic burden of the tobacco epidemic, and the tactics of the tobacco industry – but it also offers solutions for controlling tobacco use worldwide.

“This book is a vital tool for not only public health advocates, but also for governments, economists, educators, and the media to use to tell the story of how a cohesive, well-funded tobacco industry is systematically causing preventable deaths and crippling economies,” Eriksen says. “We know what needs to be done to counteract these tactics and save up to hundreds of millions of lives.”

More information about The Tobacco Atlas and interactive charts and maps are available at tobaccoatlas.org. For more information about the global work of the American Cancer Society, visit cancer.org/global.