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WHO Report–Tobacco Use Decreasing Globally, but Not on Track to Meet 2025 Target

  • 1Consulting Editor, JAMA Health Forum

According to a recent World Health Organization (WHO) report on trends in the prevalence of tobacco use, the number of tobacco users is declining worldwide for the first time, despite population growth. In another first, the agency said that the number of men using tobacco is projected to decline from 2019 forward.

“For many years now, we had witnessed a steady rise in the number of males using deadly tobacco products,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in a statement. “But now, for the first time, we are seeing a decline in male use, driven by governments being tougher on the tobacco industry.”

The report noted that a growing number of countries are implementing policies aimed at curbing tobacco use. These include a range of measures, from taxing tobacco products to offering tobacco-cessation services.

Overall, tobacco use during the past 2 decades had decreased from 1.397 billion individuals aged 15 years or older in 2000 to 1.337 billion in 2018—about 60 million fewer individuals, driven largely by reductions in the number of women who use tobacco. In contrast, tobacco use over the same period by men—who account for more than 80% of the world’s tobacco users—had increased from 1.050 billion in 2000 to 1.093 billion in 2018. However, the report, which was published last month, said that this upward trend among male users “finally turned a corner in 2018,” projecting a drop from 1.093 million male tobacco users in 2018 to 1.091 billion in 2020 and to 1.087 billion by 2025.

Despite such progress, efforts to meet the WHO’s global target of a 30% reduction in tobacco use prevalence by 2025 (relative to 2010) are falling short, and the report projected an overall reduction of just 23% by 2025. The 2025 target was established under the WHO Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases 2013-2020. Only 32 countries are likely to achieve at least a 30% relative decline in tobacco use by 2025, assuming they maintain their current pace of implementing tobacco-control measures.

The report included the use of cigarettes, pipes, cigars, waterpipes, smokeless tobacco products, and heated tobacco products. However, it did not cover the use of electronic cigarettes, which contain nicotine and other chemicals but not tobacco.

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