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close this bookFact sheet No 118: The Tobacco Epidemic: A Global Public Health Emergency Tobacco Use - May 1996 (WHO, 1996, 6 p.)
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View the documentThe Tobacco Epidemic: A Global Public Health Emergency Tobacco Use
View the documentSmoking Prevalence
View the documentHealth Effects
View the documentTobacco Production and Trade
View the documentEconomics of Tobacco
View the documentTobacco Control Measures

Health Effects

Tobacco is estimated to have caused around 3 million deaths a year in the early 1990s, and the death toll is steadily increasing. Unless current trends are reversed, that figure is expected to rise to 10 million deaths per year by the 2020s or the early 2030 (by the time the young smokers of today reach middle and older ages), with 70% of those deaths occurring in developing countries. The chief uncertainty is not whether these deaths will occur, but exactly when.

· The increase in the epidemic of smoking caused mortality in developed countries is slowing somewhat among men, but continues to increase rapidly among women, even if the epidemic of smoking-related death is not as advanced as among men. In the mid 1990s, about 25% of all male deaths in developing countries were due to smoking, and among middle aged med (aged 35-69), more than one-third of all deaths were caused by smoking.

· For middle-aged women in developed countries, the percentage of all deaths caused by smoking increased more than six-fold, from 2% in 1955 to 13% in 1995, and continues to increase rapidly.

· Of all the diseases causally associated with smoking, lung cancer is the most well known, largely because in most populations, almost all lung cancer deaths are due to smoking. However, smoking actually causes more deaths from diseases other than lung cancer. In 1995, there were 514,000 smoking-caused lung cancer deaths in developed countries, compared to 625,000 smoking attributable deaths from heart and other vascular diseases in the same year.

· Smokeless tobacco also poses serious health risks. The annual mortality from tobacco chewing in South Asia alone may well be of the order of 50 000 deaths a year.