Tobacco Use Killed 6 Million in 2011, Cancer Society Says

Tobacco Kills 6 Million as Smoking Tops China’s Death Toll
Tobacco-related deaths almost tripled in the past decade amid a 17 percent jump in cigarette production and increased affordability of the cancer-causing products in low-income nations. Photographer: Akio Kon/Bloomberg

Tobacco use killed almost 6 million people last year and was the top cause of death in China, the world’s biggest cigarette market, the American Cancer Society and World Lung Foundation reported.

Four of every five deaths were in low- and middle-income countries, and 1 billion people may die from tobacco use and exposure this century if current trends continue, according to the report, released in Singapore today.

Tobacco-related deaths almost tripled in the past decade amid a 17 percent jump in cigarette production and increased affordability of the cancer-causing products in low-income nations. The tobacco industry generates about $500 billion in annual sales, with the six biggest companies making a combined profit of $35.1 billion in 2010, said Judith Mackay, who co-wrote the report.

“The tobacco industry is among the top-10 most influential industries in the world because of its sheer magnitude of wealth and sales,” Mackay, a physician and adviser to the World Lung Foundation and the World Health Organization, said in a telephone interview on March 20.

Governments have been trying to implement the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, a global treaty endorsed by more than 174 countries and recommended by the Geneva-based United Nations agency, to curb smoking.

Plain Packaging Challenge

Producers have been increasing efforts to combat those measures with legal challenges in every region of the world, according to the World Lung Foundation.

These include objections to smoke-free legislation, and opposition to advertising bans and graphic warnings of disease on cigarette packs.

“The wolf is no longer in sheep’s clothing, and its teeth are bared,” Margaret Chan, director general of the Geneva-based WHO, said in a speech in Singapore yesterday. “Paying people to use a country’s judicial system to challenge the legality of measures that protect the public is a flagrant abuse of the judicial system and a flagrant affront to national sovereignty. This is direct interference with a country’s internal affairs.”

Australia, the first nation to require plain packaging on tobacco products, was the subject this month of a complaint by Ukraine to the World Trade Organization over its plan. Philip Morris International Inc., Imperial Tobacco Group Plc and Japan Tobacco Inc. are among companies that have challenged the law, which Australia is extending to include cigars and loose-leaf tobacco products.

Chinese Consumption

“‘Big Tobacco’ first tried to bully the global community out of advancing this treaty,” said John Stewart, senior organizer of Corporate Accountability International’s campaign Challenging Big Tobacco. “Now it’s attempting to bully countries out of enforcing it.”

Bloomberg Philanthropies is a major donor to the World Lung Foundation. Bloomberg Philanthropies was set up by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.

China is the world’s biggest producer and consumer of tobacco, accounting for 38 percent of cigarettes smoked worldwide in 2009, the groups said today.

Excise should be almost tripled in China to dissuade young people from becoming addicted, the World Health Organization said on March 14.

The price of cigarettes in China is already “quite high” and the ability of higher prices to discourage smoking isn’t proven, Minister of Industry and Information Technology Miao Wei said in Beijing on March 11.

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