If the latest numbers are any indication, smoking isn't just a costly habit, it's making the folks at the top seriously rich. According to a Tobacco Atlas report by the World Lung Foundation (WLF) on Thursday, the tobacco industry makes around $7,000 per smoking-related death every year — and that's something over which we should all be losing sleep. For the $44 billion in revenue that the industry raked in throughout 2013, 6.3 million of its consumers died of tobacco-related illness. The WLF estimates that that averages out to around $6,900 in revenue per death. If the pattern continues, nearly a billion tobacco consumers will have perished from smoking or tobacco exposure in this century, reported Reuters on Thursday. You don't have to be a mathematician to figure out that that's a lot of cash.
"There is a perception that we know everything about tobacco and the harm it causes," said WLF CEO Peter Baldini in a press release on Thursday, "but the truth is that every edition of The Tobacco Atlas [report] reveals something new about the industry, its tactics, and the real harm it causes." On Wednesday, the World Health Organization (WHO) also reported from its 16th World Conference on Tobacco or Health that, out of the 6.3 million global tobacco-related deaths each year, nearly 600,000 are caused by secondhand exposure — a ridiculous thought, considering that the industry doesn't profit off of them otherwise.
Already, the troubling numbers have caught the eye of a few billionaires who might be able to throw their financial weight around to counter those statistics. On the same day that the WHO released its statements on the tobacco industry, tech billionaire and philanthropist Bill Gates, along with business mogul and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, pledged a $4 million campaign to assist developing countries around the world in their legal efforts to fend off attacks from the tobacco industry, reported Forbes on Wednesday.
"We are at a critical moment in the global effort to reduce tobacco use, because the significant gains we have seen are at risk of being undermined by the tobacco industry’s use of trade agreements and litigation," explained Bloomberg in a statement. "We will stand with nations as they work to protect their populations against the deadly health effects of tobacco use." Bloomberg added that the campaign remained open to donors who wished to contribute their share of financing in the effort.
The WLF report released publicly on Thursday also indicted a rise in tobacco use among women around the world, many attributing the numbers to a perception of "emancipation" and "sophistication" often perpetrated in tobacco advertisements. What's more troubling, the study found, is the link between smoking and female lung cancer, which has risen above breast cancer as the number one cancer killer of women globally.
According to the report, the rise in tobacco use has global implications as well. Worldwide, smoking alone has prevented many countries from meeting their Millennium Development Goals in relation to tuberculosis mortality rates, and the WLF estimated that it would take until the year 2029 before any single Western region would be able to meet those goals, so long as current trends abounded. In less developed areas of the world, the WLF reported that meeting those goals would be impossible.
Said John R. Seffrin, PhD, CEO of the American Cancer Society in a statement on Thursday, "Whether it's the link between tobacco and increasing rates of lung cancer among women or the ever-increasing number of health conditions and deaths related to tobacco use, the health and economic case for reducing tobacco use has never been clearer." He indicated that the new report and others like it, as well as the backing of dedicated investors like Gates and Bloomberg, created "support for the change so bitterly opposed by the tobacco industry".
With the tobacco industry spending an average of nearly $900,000 per hour on advertising, reaching Millenium Development Goals and reducing the payouts from the people its product kills each year might be just the thing to bring that catastrophic progress to a halt and launch society into a higher, healthier stratosphere.
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