Global smoking rates fall for first time, but rise for kids, Africa - report

LONDON, May 18 (Reuters) - Smoking rates have declined globally for the first time on record, according to a new report on tobacco use from a public health campaign group and U.S. academics.

However, the figures from the Tobacco Atlas report – described as a potential tipping point by the authors – also mask growing numbers of smokers in parts of the world, as well as increased tobacco use among young teenagers in almost half of the countries surveyed.

Globally, there are 1.1 billion smokers and 200 million more people who use other tobacco products, the report from Vital Strategies and the Tobacconomics team at the University of Illinois at Chicago found.

That represented a decline in smoking rates from 22.6 per cent of people in 2007 to 19.6 per cent in 2019, they said, the first since the report began in 2002.

However, population growth in Africa, the eastern Mediterranean and the Western Pacific regions meant there were still increasing numbers of smokers in a number of areas, the report said. Moreover, prevalence is rising among adults in at least 10 countries in Africa, as well as among young people.

"The industry is still preying on emerging economies in ways that will lock in harms for a generation or more," said Jeffrey Drope, public health professor at the University of Illinois and a report author.

Children were also being targeted in a number of countries, resulting in a rise in smoking among teenagers aged 13-15 in 63 of 135 countries surveyed, he said. Around 50 million in this age group, both boys and girls, now used tobacco products, he said, and the impact of new products like e-cigarettes and flavoured products was not yet fully understood.

Falling prevalence globally was a sign of the effectiveness of strong tobacco control measures, such as increased taxes, Drope added, but many lower-income countries did not have tough enough restrictions in place.

The data also shows tobacco use caused almost 8.7 million deaths worldwide in 2019, and approximately $2 trillion in economic damage. While more than half of the deaths are currently in high-income countries, this is expected to change if cigarette use continues to rise in lower-income areas.

The report also suggests that the tobacco industry is targeting black people in the United States with menthol cigarette promotion. The authors backed the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's plan to ban their sale..

Reporting by Jennifer Rigby; Editing by Bradley Perrett

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Jen reports on health issues affecting people around the world, from malaria to malnutrition. Part of the Health & Pharma team, recent notable pieces include an investigation into healthcare for young transgender people in the UK as well as stories on the rise in measles after COVID hit routine vaccination, as well as efforts to prevent the next pandemic. She previously worked at the Telegraph newspaper and Channel 4 News in the UK, as well as freelance in Myanmar and the Czech Republic.