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The Impact of Tobacco Use in Impoverished Countries

Tobacco use is still a huge problem in the world, killing around six million people a year. It can cause cancer, lung problems, heart diseases, gum problems, coronary heart diseases, and increased blood pressure. Low-income countries have the most users, but because of other major poverty issues, tobacco use control is not a huge priority.

Nearly 80 percent of the billion smokers in the world live in low and middle-income countries, and the number is predicted to rise. Studies show that the number of deaths per year related to tobacco use could kill more than eight million a year by 2030 with 80 percent of them being in lower-income countries.

Even if someone in poverty needed food, shelter, and education, there are studies that suggest that they are willing to spend money on tobacco because of its addictive qualities. Even though 80 percent of the population of Uganda live on less than $1 a day, 50 percent of men smoke while the poorest households in Bangladesh spend 10 times as much on tobacco as on education.

Marketing is a major cause of why users in poor countries smoke. The use of tobacco is actually declining in developed countries, but rising in developing ones. Prosperous first-world countries have constrained the advertising of smoking, but tobacco companies continue to target low-income areas. For example, before heavy advertising came about in the Soviet Union, very few women smoked. Then within ten years of the tobacco industry advertising in the Russian market, the smoking rates among women had doubled.

Because of a lack of education, people are not aware of the health risks of smoking. Only 38 percent of smokers in China are aware that smoking can cause coronary heart disease. Young people are more prone to advertising, and the tobacco companies use that advantage to target them. Children in impoverished nations are also exploited to work in tobacco farms to care for their families. The children’s health can be at risk, working long hours and being exposed to toxic pesticides.

How are organizations fighting this? The World Health Organization put up the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control to call for scientific research to fight against tobacco use and improve global knowledge of its harm. The International Pediatric Association also works hard to combat tobacco use with children. The Bloomberg and Gates Foundation also devote a lot for their funding to tobacco control efforts. There have also been efforts from governments to increase the tax on tobacco, so people can avoid using it.

Developed countries are recovering from decades of tobacco addiction, and only government intervention in healthcare and industry regulations can allow the same to developing countries.

Emma Majewski

Photo: Flickr