Tobacco control

Tobacco use is a leading cause of many types of cancer, accounting for some 2.5 million deaths due to cancer globally, and costs an estimated USD 1.4 trillion to economies. New products, such as e-cigarettes, are designed to capture a new generation of consumers.

Vape products for sale at a City Park West convenience store. Sept. 30, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Tobacco kills eight million people worldwide each year, mainly in low- and middle-income countries where 80% of the world’s smokers live. Second-hand smoking further causes 1.2 million deaths per year among non-smokers. 

Tobacco use is a leading cause of multiple cancers such as oral cancers, lung, liver, stomach, bowel and ovarian cancers, as well as some types of leukaemia. It contributes to 25% of all cancer deaths globally, an estimated 2.5 million per year.

Quitting at any age can make an immense difference for the user, increasing life expectancy and improving the quality of life. 

Tobacco use burdens the global economy, with an estimated USD 1.4 trillion in healthcare costs and lost productivity each year. 

In addition, tobacco has a negative impact on economies due to illicit trade, as well as on the environment and climate change. Tobacco production is also linked to human rights abuses and child labour.


Image: Diagram based on the “Tobacco use, smoking infographic” by the CDC – click on image to view larger.


World No Tobacco Day 2024 is coming up with the theme 
"Protecting children from tobacco industry interference"

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8 million

people die from tobacco-related illnesses every year.

Source: World Health Organization


of all cancer deaths globally are related to tobacco products.

Source: World Health Organization

USD 1.7 trillion

costs in social and economic losses in 2022 (equivalent to 1.7% of global GDP).

Source: World Health Organization

What is tobacco control?

Tobacco control aims at reducing the use of tobacco and the serious health risks and mortality it causes through policies, laws and education. It has long been a priority of UICC’s advocacy efforts in collaboration with members and partners. Tobacco control is also one of the 16 essential health services monitored by the World Health Organization (WHO) to achieve universal health coverage (UHC).

 It is essential for the promotion of better health as part of UHC that people understand the risk of smoking and tobacco use. Governments and policy makers have a clear responsibility to protect them from harm caused by tobacco.

– Sonali Johnson, Head of Knowledge, Advocacy and Policy, Union for International Cancer Control (UICC)

Regulations and policies

In order to stop the global tobacco epidemic, an international treaty entered into force in 2005: the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC).  WHO defines it as “an evidence-based treaty that reaffirms the right of all people to the highest standard of health. There are currently 180 parties to the convention. The treaty deals with topics such as demand-side reduction measures, supply-side reduction measures, protection of the environment, protection from tobacco industry interests, implementation of multi-sectoral tobacco control strategies, nicotine addiction and exposure to second-hand smoke, public awareness, illicit trade and measures such as tax increases or ban advertising.

Photo credit: WHO FCTC/P.Virot

The role of UICC and its members

UICC and its members encourage governments and policy makers to adopt and effectively implement the WHO FCTC treaty and by raising awareness of the risks related to the use of tobacco.

The tobacco industry continues to promote tobacco use with very strong and powerful marketing campaigns targeted particularly at youth populations. It is therefore very important to counter the dissemination of misinformation and to raise awareness about this complex topic encompassing several health and socio-economic domains. This includes education about e-cigarettes and emerging heated tobacco products.

UICC is concerned by the rise in the prevalence of youth vaping and calls for strict regulation of the ingredients, age limits and other aspects related to the sales and distribution of e-cigarettes. There is a growing body of research that shows that they are unhealthy products designed to be addictive and facilitate first-time tobacco smoking. 

UICC podcast on tobacco control

UICC focuses its efforts on three key areas:

data visualization graphic about price and taxation in various countries depending on their income (high-income, middle-income, low-income)
Contributions of Specific Excise Taxes on Tobacco and Other Taxes to the Total Cost per Pack of the Most-Sold Brand of Cigarettes in High-, Middle-, and Low-Income Countries. Source: Jha and Peto, NEJM, 2014.

Tax increase has been linked to a decrease in smoking prevalence in countries at all income levels. [1] A 10% increase in price, for instance, leads to a 4-5% decrease in cigarette demand, making them less affordable to smokers particularly in low-income settings. Between 2008 and 2020, the number of countries applying the recommended 75% excise tax on retail price rose from 23 to 40, [2] covering one billion people. Unfortunately, many governments are still reluctant to increase taxes because the tobacco lobby claims that tax increases will cause declines in revenues or an increase in illicit trade.

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Old cigarette advertisement
Adapted from the Stanford Research into the impact of tobacco advertising:

Banning advertising, promotion and marketing has been shown to lower the consumption of tobacco products. There are direct forms of promotion via television, radio, press and social media; and indirect via activities such as free distribution, discounts, sponsorships and corporate social responsibility programmes. Every year, the tobacco industry spends millions in advertising and marketing. [3] For instance, in 2017, the industry spent USD one million per hour in the US alone to maintain their consumer basis, discouraging smokers to quit and recruiting new users. By banning tobacco advertisement, we can prevent tobacco consumption being seen as a social norm. This also includes a ban on the marketing of e-cigarettes to youth. 

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Encourage the development of smoke-free places, to protect from second-hand smoke

Smoke-free area from Monash Council

Second-hand smoke kills 1.2 million people per year. Children and teenagers are particularly sensitive to it: 65,000 children die each year from diseases attributable to second-hand smoke. Smoke-free laws are relatively easy to implement and generally well accepted by the public. Smoke free public places do not harm businesses including the hospitality sector. However, only 24% of the world’s population is protected by complete smoking bans in public places, workplaces and on public transportation. Implementing and developing smoke-free areas also helps smokers to quit.
*WHO report on the global tobacco epidemic, 2021.

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Cover for the Factsheet cancer and tobacco
Union for International Cancer Control (UICC)
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Four tobacco control infographics
Union for International Cancer Control (UICC)
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Collage of different tobacco control maps
World Health Organization (WHO)
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Tobacco use is the single largest preventable cause of cancer and stopping smoking is one of the best ways to reduce our risk of developing cancer. @uicc

Tobacco kills up to half of its users who don’t quit. Prioritizing your health by avoiding tobacco can greatly improve your chances of a longer, healthier life. @uicc @WHO 

Tobacco kills 8 million people worldwide each year, mainly in low- and middle-income countries where 80% of the world’s smokers live. @uicc @WHO 

Tobacco use burdens the global economy with an estimated USD 2 trillion in healthcare costs and lost productivity each year.@uicc @WHO

All forms of tobacco use are harmful. There is no safe level of exposure to tobacco. Quitting tobacco at any age can will start to improve your health and quality of life almost immediately and add years to your life expectancy. @uicc @WHO

Lung cancer contributes to 1.8 million deaths globally per year. Two-thirds – 1.2 million deaths – are related to tobacco smoking. Quitting smoking can significantly reduce the risk of lung cancer. @uicc @WHO

Tobacco taxation is one of the most cost-effective measures for controlling tobacco use and preventing cancer. According to @WHO, increasing tobacco prices by 10% cuts consumption by 4-5%. @uicc 

Tobacco industry

In 2018, the six biggest tobacco producers made USD 55 billion in profit. That's more than the 9 of the leading food and beverage companies combined. This profit shows how the tobacco industry depends on gaining new customers to keep making money, relying on addiction to maintain their profits. @TobaccoAtlas

The tobacco industry relies on corporate social responsibility (CSR) actions – from building schools to offering disaster aid – to improve their public image and convince governments to limit taxes and restrictions on their products. @TobaccoAtlas

Tobacco taxes are the best way to prevent tobacco consumption, but they're not used enough. By raising taxes, tobacco products get more expensive, so fewer young people start smoking, more consumers quit, and overall tobacco use goes down. @TobaccoAtlas

Tobacco control marketing mortality video
Tobacco control time is running out video
Tobacco control video on raising taxes

Latest UICC news and blog articles on tobacco control

Prevent future cancer deaths, protect youth from tobacco industry manipulation

Group photo of a diverse body of students laughing
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For a healthier future: empowering youth against big tobacco’s tactics

A diverse group of university students gathered, laughing
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The tobacco industry’s ruthless tactics to hook Africa’s youth

Youth tobacco control activists from the Kenyan tobacco control alliance (KETCA) protesting against tobacco industry interference with posters and banners.
Elvina Majiwa
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Tobacco control youth

World No Tobacco Day is an annual awareness day taking place on 31 May. 

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Last update

Friday 03 May 2024

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