Tobacco Atlas: Tobacco Kills 6 Million in 1 Year

In 2011, tobacco use killed almost 6 million people worldwide. Tobacco-related deaths have nearly tripled around the world in the past decade. If trends continue, 1 billion people will reportedly die from tobacco use and exposure during the 21st century – 1 person every 6 seconds.

These are the sobering statistics according to The Tobacco Atlas, Fourth Edition, released by the American Cancer Society and World Lung Foundation at the 15th World Conference on Tobacco or Health (WCTOH). The international conference on tobacco control is held every 3 years, attracting thousands of academics, health professionals, non-government organizations and public officials from more than 100 countries. The WCTOH is wrapping up today in Singapore.

According to the Atlas, the burden of tobacco cultivation, consumption, illness and death is moving from developed to developing parts of the world and is taking an increased toll on low- and middle-income countries. Low-income countries include Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Liberia, Nepal, Haiti, Kenya, Somalia, Uganda, and Zimbabwe. Middle-income countries include Brazil, China, Cuba, India, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, South Africa, Turkey, and Vietnam. Nearly 80% of those who die from tobacco-related illnesses are in low- and middle-income countries. In 2009, 6 of the top 10 tobacco-producing countries had malnourishment rates between 5% and 27%.

The Atlas estimates that revenues from the global tobacco industry likely approach a half trillion US dollars a year.

“We can no longer deny nor accept the massive human and economic harm caused by tobacco. 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. We know what needs to be done to counteract these tactics and save up to hundreds of millions of lives,” said John R. Seffrin, Ph.D., chief executive officer, American Cancer Society.

The World Health Organization is calling for stronger global anti-tobacco measures that include tobacco taxes, advertising bans, smoke-free public places, mass media campaigns, and effective health warnings. But the countries with the most need for anti-tobacco measures have the fewest resources to spend on implementing them.

Deaths prevented in US

Tobacco control policies and programs in the US prevented almost 800,000 lung cancer deaths from 1975 through 2000, according to an analysis published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. Since 1964, when the US Surgeon General issued the first report on smoking and health, tobacco control efforts in the US have included restrictions on smoking in public places, increases in cigarette taxes, limits on underage access to cigarettes, and efforts to increase public awareness of the hazards of smoking.

According to the analysis, if all cigarette smoking in the US had ended after that first Surgeon General report, an estimated 2.5 million people would have been spared death from lung cancer. Instead, despite all that is known about tobacco and health, about 45 million Americans smoke, and tobacco use remains the single largest preventable cause of disease and premature death in the US.

Smoking is known to cause multiple types of cancer, as well as heart disease, stroke, lung disease, and other health problems. Secondhand smoke is also dangerous, causing heart disease and lung cancer in adult non-smokers, and sudden infant death syndrome, respiratory infections, and decreased lung function in children.

The American Cancer Society can help if you're ready to quit smoking. See our Guide to Quitting Smoking or call us at 1-800-227-2345.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master’s-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

The Tobacco Atlas, Fourth Edition. Published 2012 by the American Cancer Society. First author: Michael Eriksen, Georgia State University, Atlanta, Ga.

Impact of Reduced Tobacco Smoking on Lung Cancer Mortality in the United States During 1975–2000. Published online March 14, 2012 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. First author: Suresh H. Moolgavkar, MD, PhD, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, Wa.

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