November 13, 2018 (New York, USA) – Hundreds of thousands of Latin Americans continue to die every year from tobacco-related disease, according to the American Cancer Society and Vital Strategies, co-publishers of the Tobacco Atlas, Sixth Edition, now available in Spanish. While the proportion of the population who use tobacco has nearly halved across the region thanks to strong tobacco control policies in some countries, the region is seeing an increase in tobacco-related deaths, to more than 300,000 in 2016. Governments can reduce the associated health, economic, and social burden of tobacco use for generations to come by implementing proven life-saving policies as recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).

“Every death from tobacco is preventable, and every government has the power to reduce the human and economic toll of the tobacco epidemic,” said Jeffrey Drope, PhD, co-editor and author of The Atlas and Scientific Vice President, Economic and Health Policy Research at the American Cancer Society. “Countries like Brazil and Uruguay have significantly reduced smoking rates, but prevalence is increasing in countries where governments have failed to act. These countries are often among the region’s most economically challenged. Increases in the health and financial burden of smoking will further harm their economies and opportunities for sustainable development. Policymakers need to resist the tobacco industry’s influence and implement strong policies to avoid this fate.”

According to the Tobacco Atlas, only two countries in the region – Argentina and Chile – have implemented tobacco taxes at levels recommended by the World Health Organization, which are proven to be the single most effective way to reduce tobacco use. Tobacco industry tactics, including interfering in policymaking and aggressively promoting flavored tobacco products to hook youth, are impeding greater progress in reducing the burden of tobacco.

“From cultivation to disposal, tobacco causes health and environmental harm at every stage of its life cycle,” said Dr. Neil Schluger, Senior Advisor for Science at Vital Strategies and co-editor and author of The Tobacco Atlas. “It is linked to an ever-increasing list of diseases, burdening health systems and exacerbating poverty. It also harms non-smokers, especially women and children exposed to second-hand smoke, and tobacco workers who risk developing nicotine poisoning caused by skin contact with tobacco leaf. Regional leaders have enacted proven and new strategies to reduce tobacco use, like high taxes, large graphic warnings and bans on additives. We hope their efforts embolden other leaders to follow their example.”

Almost all countries in Latin America are signatories to the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, the global health treaty which requires them to enact proven measures to reduce tobacco use, but no country in the region has enacted all these measures at the highest level of achievement. Regional leaders and examples of best practices include:

  • Uruguay, which nearly halved smoking prevalence from 40% in 2006 to 6% in 2017, is a global leader in the adoption of large graphic warnings and limiting tobacco brand variants
  • Brazil, which has implemented progressively stronger tobacco control policies to more than halve smoking prevalence since 1980
  • Panama, which implemented a model policy to ban tobacco marketing
  • Colombia, which implemented and enforced comprehensive smokefree laws and
  • Argentina and Chile, which are the only countries in the region currently taxing tobacco at the highest level recommended by WHO.

In Colombia, where cigarettes were comparatively cheap, tax increases introduced in 2016 led to a 15 percent reduction in the number of smokers. In Mexico, a recent national health survey found a slight increase in smoking rates in spite of the government implementing a national quitline, cessation resources and large graphic warnings on tobacco packs. This suggests that Mexico needs to adopt a stronger and more comprehensive tobacco control policy.

“Health advocates need to use robust data to rebut industry misinformation and encourage policymakers and the public to support tobacco control,” said Blanca Llorente, Technical Advisor to Colombia’s Fundación Anáas. “A data-focused case for increasing tobacco taxes meant Colombia moved from having the region’s second-lowest tobacco prices, to prices closer to the regional average. We need to build upon that success for additional increases in Colombia and replicate it across other countries where tobacco is too affordable. I recommend The Tobacco Atlas as a key resource for information on issues like tobacco taxes and illicit sales.”

“Mexico is making progress in the fight against the tobacco epidemic, but we need to do much more to protect our people, especially our youth,” said Erick Antonio Ochoa, Erick Antonio Ochoa, Director of Initiatives for Tobacco Control, InterAmerican Heart Foundation Mexico. “The Tobacco Atlas shows the benefits we could realize from fully comprehensive and strongly enforced national smoke-free laws and implementing significant, above-inflation increases in tobacco taxes to deter smoking initiation among youth and reduce consumption among current smokers. It’s time to act.”

Tobacco use is increasing in countries that have not adopted strong tobacco control policies, which will lead to future increases in tobacco-related disease and premature death, and related costs. The tobacco industry continues to aggressively target the region, especially its youth. Urgent action is needed in countries where youth smoking is increasing, like Suriname, where youth smoking increased from 13.5% in 1990 to 20.3% in 2015 and Guatemala, where youth smoking increased from 7.6% in 1990 to 11.2% in 2015.

American Cancer Society and Vital Strategies urge all countries in the region to use The Tobacco Atlas to help accelerate the implementation and enforcement of best practice, life-saving tobacco control policies.

Download a fact sheet on the epidemic in Latin America.