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Smoking rates have fallen globally, Germany lagging: WHO

July 31, 2023

The World Health Organization said advertisements against the harmful effects of smoking and higher cigarette prices have paid off in deterring people from the habit. But Germany has to do more.

A symbolic image of a person holding a burning cigarette, as smoking rates keep up in a vast majority of countries with no regulations
Effective preventive measures ties lowers risk of cancer and heart diseaseImage: Jens Kalaene//dpa/picture alliance

Efforts to limit tobacco use globally were showing results and smoking rates have fallen, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Monday.

The WHO published a report on tobacco-control measures introduced 15 years ago. 

It said 5.6 billion people were now living in countries that implemented at least one of its recommended measures to reduce tobacco use.

This led to a decline in smoking, without which there "would be an estimated 300 million more smokers in the world today."

The rate of worldwide prevalence of smoking had dropped from 22.8% in 2007 to 17% in 2021.

"Slowly but surely, more and more people are being protected from the harms of tobacco," WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

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Smoking a leading cause of preventable death

Some measures the agency recommends include advertising against the harmful effects of smoking, health warnings on packs and raising taxes.

Mauritius and the Netherlands joined Brazil and Turkey in implementing all WHO-recommended measures to curb smoking, the report said.

Eight other countries — Ethiopia, Iran, Ireland, Jordan, Madagascar, Mexico, New Zealand and Spain —  were a step away from joining the ranks of countries with well-rounded tobacco control steps.

Smoking is one of the leading causes of preventable deaths — about 8.7 million people die every year from smoking, and another 1.2 million die from secondhand smoking. 

The WHO said 44 countries, representing 2.3 billion people, had no anti-smoking measures in place.

The report also raised concerns about the rise of e-cigarettes, saying there were 74 countries with no regulations in place for  vaping products. There is no minimum age to buy e-cigarettes in nearly half the world's countries either.

Germany performs poorly

There was still a long way to go before a significant shift toward smoking occurred. Many countries were not taking steps.

Germany is among the countries causing "great concern," said Rüdiger Krech, the director for health promotion at WHO.

"We can't really understand why politicians in Germany are so lax in implementing tobacco-control measures," Krech said.

Krech, who is from Germany, said that "this causes a lot of suffering and leads to unnecessarily high pressure on the health system" in the country.

He added that a ban on indoor smoking was inconsistent and advertisements against the harmful effects of smoking in public spaces were poorly enforced.

Wile food prices climbed over the last year, inflation did not impact the prices of tobacco products as much and they ended up relatively cheaper compared with other goods, according to Krech.

rm/lo (dpa, AFP)