Societal Harms

The global economic cost of smoking amounts to nearly 2 trillion dollars (in 2016 PPP) annually, almost 2% of the world’s GDP. This represents a lost opportunity to instead invest in human capital through health and education.

Tobacco-related harms reach far beyond the death and disease caused by tobacco consumption. Put simply, tobacco harms the world’s sustainable development. The economic cost of smoking globally amounts to nearly 2 trillion dollars (in 2016 PPP) each year, equivalent to almost 2% of the world’s total economic output. The majority of the total economic cost of smoking is the lost productivity of those sickened or killed by tobacco. Another 30% of these costs are the healthcare-related expenses of treating smoking-attributable diseases. Notably, this price tag does not include other substantial costs, such as the costs caused by second-hand smoke, non-combustible tobacco products, the environmental and health damages from tobacco farming, smoking-related fire hazards, cigarette butt littering, and, foremost, the immeasurable pain and suffering of tobacco victims and their families.

The cost of tobacco use is rising rapidly, following the increase in the number of tobacco users in low-, medium-, and high-HDI countries. Given the limited resources in most countries, these costs represent a lost opportunity to instead spend these resources on advancing the economy through education, healthcare, technology, and manufacturing. Because most health effects of smoking lag smoking initiation by more than a decade, the societal harm of smoking will still inevitably increase in countries where tobacco consumption has risen, and even those where it has only recently started to fall.

Most tobacco users become addicted as youth without knowing the health consequences that tobacco use will eventually inflict upon them in the future, causing a level of economic hardship that they would undoubtedly not have chosen for their families or themselves. Regardless of a country’s stage of economic development, the burden of tobacco falls disproportionately on the poor, and is a source of both health and economic disparities  The poor spend a larger share of their income on tobacco products, crowding out spending on necessities such as food, education, health and shelter. Additionally, tobacco-related illnesses contribute to catastrophic health expenditures that compete with basic needs in poor households. When a family breadwinner gets sick or dies prematurely due to tobacco use, the entire family is devastated and further impoverished. This cycle of tobacco use and poverty is vicious and will perpetuate through generations without intensified tobacco control efforts; thus, there is a particular need for efforts directed toward the poor.

The following chapters of the Atlas will focus on proven tobacco control strategies. The development and implementation of these strategies are fundamental investments in human capital that promotes human development.

Economic Cost of Smoking-Attributable Diseases

Countries with total economic cost more than 10,000 $PPP million (or 10 $PPP billion)

Disparities in Smoking Prevalence

In both men and women, differences in smoking prevalence can contribute to overall health and economic disparities.


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