A recent report from the World Health Organization (WHO) found that, for the first time ever, the number of males using tobacco is projected to decline globally. From a starting point of 1.093 billion in 2018, the report authors project 2 million fewer smokers in 2020 and 6 million fewer by 2025. This represents an important milestone in the fight against global tobacco use because, even though the percentage of adult men using tobacco products has been declining for decades, the absolute number of male tobacco users had continued to increase due to population growth.

Despite reaching this turning point, Owing to the relatively slow decline among males, the WHO anticipates that the global target to reduce tobacco use by 30 percent by 2025 will not be met.

Women’s smoking and other tobacco use has already been dropping over the past two decades, declining sharply from 346 million in 2000 to 244 million in 2018.  According to WHO, this downward trend is likely to continue through 2025, when less than 7 percent of women age 15 and older worldwide are expected to use tobacco. However, considering that more than four in five tobacco users today are male, reducing male tobacco use more rapidly will be essential to meet WHO targets and reduce tobacco-caused death and disease around the world.

Figure 1 from WHO Report: Global Trends in Prevalence of Tobacco Use by Sex

While it is promising that tobacco use among both men and women is declining globally, these gains are not being experienced equally in all parts of the world. The Americas is the only region expected to achieve the targeted 30 percent decline, with slower declines projected for Africa, Europe, and the Western Pacific. Notably, countries that the World Bank categorizes as middle income are projected to see slower declines than those categorized as either high income or low income.

WHO’s Sustainable Development Goal 3.a provides for strengthening the implementation of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in all countries, which focuses on reducing tobacco use by reducing both demand for and supply of tobacco products. Evidence-based solutions that have shown to be effective in reducing death and disease caused by tobacco use, as well as the associated health care costs, include:

Accelerated implementation of these and other tobacco control policies around the world, particularly in countries where tobacco use rates remain high, is needed to sustain and expand upon current progress in reducing tobacco-caused disease and death.

By Melissa Maitin-Shepard