GENEVA • Smoking costs the global economy more than US$1 trillion (S$1.4 trillion) a year and will kill a third more people by 2030 than it does now, according to a study.
The joint report from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and US National Cancer Institute, published yesterday, said the cost of smoking far outweighs global revenues from tobacco taxes, which the WHO estimated at about US$269 billion from 2013 to 2014.
"The number of tobacco-related deaths is projected to increase from about six million deaths annually to about eight million annually by 2030, with more than 80 per cent of these occurring in LMICs (low- and middle-income countries)," the study said.
Around 80 per cent of smokers live in such countries, and although smoking prevalence is falling among the global population, the total number of smokers worldwide is rising, the report noted.
WHO has estimated that 600,000 deaths a year are caused by "second-hand smoke", the tobacco smoke breathed in by non-smokers in enclosed spaces.
Health experts said tobacco use is the single biggest preventable cause of death globally.
"It is responsible for... likely over US$1 trillion in healthcare costs and lost productivity each year," said the study.
The economic costs are expected to continue to rise, and although governments have the tools to reduce tobacco use and associated deaths, most have fallen far short of using those methods effectively, said the 688-page report.
"Government fears that tobacco control will have an adverse economic impact are not justified by the evidence. The science is clear; the time for action is now."
Cheap and effective policies to encourage quitting include hiking tobacco taxes and prices, comprehensive smoke-free policies, complete bans on tobacco company marketing, and prominent pictorial warning labels on cigarette packets.
Tobacco taxes could also be used to fund more costly interventions, such as mass media campaigns and support for cessation services.
Governments spent less than US$1 billion on tobacco control from 2013 to 2014, according to a WHO estimate.
Tobacco regulation, meanwhile, is reaching a crunch point because of a trade dispute brought by Cuba, Indonesia, Honduras and the Dominican Republic against Australia's stringent "plain packaging" laws, which enforce standardised designs on tobacco products and ban distinctive logos and colourful branding.
The World Trade Organisation is expected to rule on the complaint this year. Australia's policy is being watched by other countries that are considering similar policies, including Norway, Slovenia, Canada, Singapore, Belgium and South Africa, the study said.