New Internationalist

Tobacco - the facts

Issue 369

Tobacco is the deadliest consumer product, illegal drugs included. It causes an estimated 4.2 million premature deaths a year.


• About a third of all adults in the world use tobacco.

• Almost one billion of these are men – 35% of all men in rich countries and 50% in the Majority World.

• Social taboos and limited finances mean fewer women smoke, around 250 million in total – 22% of all women in the West and 9% in the global South. New Zealand/Aotearoa, Norway and Sweden are the only countries in which women smoke as much as men.

• Most smokers start early – nearly a quarter had their first cigarette before the age of 10.

• Nearly 100,000 young people join the tobacco club each day.1

Countries with the highest smoking rates, men and women combined, 2002


In China, the male smoking rate is an astonishing 63%, but only 3.8% of women indulge.1 China has over 300 million male smokers – equal to the entire US population.

• Cigarettes kill half of all lifetime users. Each cigarette smoked cuts average life expectancy by 7 minutes.

• Smoking causes 90% of all lung cancers, 75% of chronic bronchitis and emphysema and 25% of blood-related heart disease.

• Passive smokers have a 20-30% increased risk of lung cancer and a 23% greater risk of heart disease.


• 500 million – that’s the number of people alive today who will eventually be killed by tobacco.


Cigarette consumption keeps growing despite a decline in smoking in some countries – mainly in the West where public health education and higher taxes have paid off. As world population expands, so do the legions of smokers.


Tobacco companies play up their contribution to the economy. But the costs of their products are enormous, both personally and socially.

More than 5,000 billion cigarettes roll off the production line yearly. 40% are produced by state monopolies. The Chinese National Tobacco Corporation is the single largest producer. But it's the transnational tobacco giants that are the most profitable.

• With smoking rates falling and restrictions on advertising, cigarette marketing in the US has gone into overdrive – annually $200 is spent per smoker, over 46 cents per pack sold.

US tobacco companies spend over $32 million a year to lobby politicians and political parties.


• Over 125 countries grew 7 million tons of tobacco in 2000, more than double the 1960 harvest.

• The crop sold for $20 billion – a small fraction of the $400 billion raked in by tobacco companies each year.


Cigarettes account for 96% of manufactured tobacco products. Tobacco smoke is a potent mix of over 4,000 chemicals.

It includes (as found in)

Acetone - paint stripper

Ammonia - floor cleaner

Arsenic - insect poison

Butane - lighter fuel

Cadmium - car batteries

Carbon Monoxide - car exhaust fumes

DDT - insecticide

Hydrogen cyanide - gas chambers

Methanol - rocket fuel

Naphthalene - moth balls

Toluene - industrial solvent

Vinyl chloride - plastics

The tobacco industry has done extensive surveys to see where global expansion opportunities lie. The future for the Majority World looks smoke-filled.


All monetary values are expressed in US$.
All information has been derived from The Tobacco Atlas by Judith Mackay and Michael Eriksen, 2002, WHO, Geneva; excepting 1. Tobacco Fact Sheets from the 11th World Conference on Tobacco OR Health, 6-11 August 2000. 2. Tobacco Control Country Profiles 2003, American Cancer Society, WHO and International Union Against Cancer, 2003.

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This article was originally published in issue 369

New Internationalist Magazine issue 369
Issue 369

More articles from this issue

  • Social justice for sale

    July 1, 2004

    Transnationals attempt hijack of World Social Forums' political space

  • Lost in transit

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  • Smoke gets in your eyes

    July 1, 2004

    Hemmed in by restrictions in many parts of the world, the tobacco empire nevertheless continues to expand. Dinyar Godrej explores the contradictions.

New Internationalist Magazine Issue 436

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