Tobacco use hinders development in many ways

13 Sep 2015

But tobacco use also affects many other dimensions of development, including poverty. Low-income families that spend money on tobacco have fewer resources for food, health and education, which are all essential to development.

See below for details on how tobacco use affects certain aspects of sustainable development, and about how tobacco control can contribute to development.

Evidence of the various impacts of tobacco and tobacco use is available for many countries and growing steadily. We have begun to collect it in this data sheet, a document that was developed in June 2015 and is being regularly revised with new data and evidence. If you have any additions to suggest, email us

* Goal 3. Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages:
3.4. by 2030 reduce by one-third pre-mature mortality from non-communicable diseases (NCDs) through prevention and treatment, and promote mental health and wellbeing
3.a. strengthen implementation of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in all countries as appropriate.

The intersection of tobacco use
and sustainable development

Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 1: End poverty in all its forms everywhere
Money spent on tobacco is money not spent on other household needs. In Thailand for example, low-income families spent 13.6 percent (5 times more than high-income families) of their annual income on tobacco products, money that could be used for food, clothing and education (SEATCA, 2008). In China, this figure was estimated to be 11 percent of total household spending (Hu TW, et al, 2005)

Goal 2: End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture
In 2005, Indonesian households with smokers spent 11.5 percent of their income on tobacco products, compared to 11 percent on fish, meat, eggs and milk combined (Barber S, et al, 2008). In a tobacco-growing region of Tanzania, clearing land to plant tobacco accounts for 3.5 percent of annual deforestation while cutting trees to burn wood for curing tobacco adds another 3 percent to deforestation (Mangora M, 2006).

Goal 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
Tobacco use kills. In Mexico, 10 percent of all deaths are attributable to tobacco use (CONADIC, 2003) while roughly 100,000 patients demand healthcare services each year to treat tobacco-related illnesses (Arredondo A, Carrillo C, Zuniga A, 2007). In Russia, tobacco use is the third leading cause of premature death after high blood pressure and high cholesterol (Marques P, et al, 2007). Every year smoking kills at least 225,000 people in Indonesia (IHME, 2013).

Goal 4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
In Malawi, at least 78,000 children are forced to work in tobacco fields, preventing most of them from attending school (Plan Malawi, 2009). In 2005, Indonesian households with smokers spent 11.5 percent of their household income on tobacco products, compared to just 3.2 percent on education (Barber S, et al, 2008).

Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
Women need to know about the dangers of tobacco. Already, women comprise 20 percent of the world’s more than 1 billion smokers (WHO 2010). In 2012, 17 percent of women in developed countries and 4 percent of women in developing nations were daily smokers (Ng M, et al). In China, 53 percent of women of reproductive age were exposed to secondhand smoke at work and 65 percent were exposed at home, which raises the risk of complications in pregnancy (Caixeta RB, Khoury RN, Sinha DN, 2012). In Uruguay, comprehensive tobacco control policies improved the health of newborns by encouraging pregnant women who smoke to quit (Harris JE, Balsa AI, Triunfo P, 2014).

Goal 8: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
Tobacco related deaths can affect countries’ economies. For example, in highly populated, developing countries like Pakistan, lost economic opportunities are severe because up to half of all tobacco-related deaths occur during the population’s prime productive years, ages 30–69 (Ng M, et al). In Egypt, almost 61 percent of all people who work indoors are exposed to secondhand smoke (CDC, WHO, 2009). Exposure to secondhand smoke is responsible for about 600,000 deaths a year globally (WHO, 2004).

Goal 10: Reduce inequality within and among countries
More than 80 percent of the world’s smokers live in low- and middle-income countries, which have fewer resources to devote to the health and other costs of tobacco and tobacco use (Jha P, 2009). In Uruguay, smoking rates are highest among the poor: 35 percent of adults in the poorest quarter of the population smoke, while 19.6 percent of adults in the wealthiest quarter do (Bonilla-Chacín, ME).

Goal 11: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
Breathing in secondhand smoke is deadly, in workplaces and homes. Exposure to secondhand smoke kills 100,000 people in China every year (MOH China, 2007). In Mexico, nearly 20 percent of adults are exposed to secondhand smoke at work and 17 percent at home (GATS Mexico, 2010). In Thailand, 68 percent of youth (age 13–15) are exposed to secondhand smoke in public places and 49 percent in their homes (GYTS Thailand, 2009).

Goal 13: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
Tobacco cultivation accounts for 1 percent of the world’s agricultural land use, yet it is responsible for 2-4 percent of global deforestation, “making a visible footprint for climate change” (Tobacco Atlas, 2015).

Goal 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development
Cigarette butts, which can take up to 12 years to decompose, were the most common debris item found in the 2013 International Coastal Clean-Up in 92 countries, making up 15 percent of total items (Ocean Conservancy, 2013). Thousands of chemicals are present in a cigarette, and the residues may be found in littered butts. Leachate from cigarette butts is acutely toxic to some marine and freshwater fish species, and even unsmoked filters are slightly toxic (Slaughter et al., 2011).

Goal 15: Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss
Tobacco growing is responsible for biodiversity losses, land pollution through the use of pesticides, as well as soil degradation, deforestation and water pollution (WHO 2008). Tobacco manufacturing is related to 30 percent of deforestation in Bangladesh (John S, Vaite S, 2002) and between 1990 and 1995, tobacco growing accounted for 26 percent of deforestation in Malawi (Millington A and Jepson W, 2008). In Brazil, 200,000 tobacco-growing families used an average of 3kg of wood to cure 1kg of tobacco (Geist H, Chang K-t, Eteges V, Abdallah JM, 2009).

Goal 16: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
In 2000, the European Community accused tobacco companies Phillip Morris and RJ Reynolds of smuggling cigarettes, obstructing governments’ tobacco control, bribing foreign public officials and illicit trade with terrorist groups. The case was dropped but led to a legally-binding agreement that PMI pay the EC $1 billion and put in place measures to prevent smuggling (Joossens and Raw, 2008).

Goal 17 Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development
The UN General Assembly has endorsed the policies and actions in the outcome document of the Third International Conference on Financing for Development (FfD3). One of these policies is to increase tobacco taxes, because price and tax measures on tobacco can be an effective and important means to reduce tobacco consumption and health-care costs, and, in many countries, to raise revenue to finance development programmes (FfD3, 2015).


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