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WNTD 2017 – Global Costs of Smoking

Economic and Health Policy Research, American Cancer Society

This year’s World No Tobacco Day highlights the negative impact that tobacco consumption has on all of us. Tobacco use is not only a burden on smokers; through its negative effects on health, equality, and the environment, tobacco use harms the wellbeing of all people. Tobacco use hampers development to the point where ultimately no health system or national economy can afford it.

Recent research estimates that the total economic cost of smoking globally amounts to 2 trillion dollars, when adjusted for 2016 purchasing power parity (PPP). About 30% of these costs are the direct cost of smoking: these are the healthcare-related expenses incurred from treatment of diseases attributable to smoking, which include, but are not limited to, hospitalization, medication, lab tests, consultation fees, etc. The majority of the total economic cost of smoking is its indirect costs, which take into account the productivity lost due to either mortality or morbidity attributable to smoking.

“The economic cost of smoking is equivalent to almost 2% of the world’s total economic output” underscores Dr. Nigar Nargis, Director in the Economic and Health Policy Research program at the American Cancer Society, who was a key researcher in the study. Dr. Nargis notes that developing countries bear a high burden of the cost, about 40% of the total share. This is a staggering figure given the lost value of resources that could be allocated to other productive sectors of the economy such as education, healthcare, technology and manufacturing.

So far, our progress on tobacco control seemingly remains outpaced by the growing burden of tobacco use. The map below shows the estimates by country – a Tobacco Atlas exclusive for World No Tobacco Day. The costs on the map are expressed in 2016 prices to give a better sense of correspondence to current-year costs.

Total Economic Cost Attributable to Smoking, 2016 PPP$

Strong tobacco control measures mitigate these costs. Effective tobacco control strategies reduce smoking prevalence and, in consequence, reduce tobacco-related harms, including harms to the economy. For that reason, tobacco control policies have become an integral part of the United Nations Sustainable Development Agenda. On this year’s World No Tobacco Day, the World Health Organization highlights that tobacco control policies—especially including tobacco tax increases—are stimuli for economic growth and development, and calls on countries to prioritize and accelerate tobacco control in their efforts to reach the development goals. The civil society from around the world is also joining the call to raise tobacco taxes as the single most effective tobacco control intervention. Formed in 2016, a global coalition of cancer groups, supported by the American Cancer Society and the Vital Strategies, pledged to promote tobacco taxes as a powerful solution for large-scale cancer prevention. This movement is called Prevent20, in recognition of the more than 20% of all global cancer deaths that are attributable to tobacco use.

This post was drafted by Michal Stoklosa and Amitoch Kohli with contributions from John Daniel, Jeffrey Drope, and Nigar Nargis

ACS Staff

Economic and Health Policy Research, American Cancer Society

The Economic and Health Policy Research program seeks to address cancer worldwide by conducting research on the economic and policy aspects of risk factors to cancer, including in the areas of tobacco, nutrition, physical activity and harmful alcohol use. We also examine issues around the economics of health equity, including access to care.