Tobacco Industry Hurts mainly the Poor: WHO | Western Cape Government


Tobacco Industry Hurts mainly the Poor: WHO

30 May 2004
Economic benefits of tobacco are a myth. Much room for tobacco tax increases.

The poor are the biggest victims of the tobacco industry, with money desperately needed for essentials like food being wasted on a product that harms their health, the World Health Organization (WHO) warns.

Little attention is given to how tobacco increases poverty, so this year's World No Tobacco Day on May 31 focuses on the fact that tobacco impoverishes the individual, the family and the nation.

The poor tend to smoke most, states the WHO. Of the estimated 1.3 billion smokers worldwide, 84 percent live in developing countries. Even in developed countries, it is the poor who consume the most tobacco and who bear most of the economic and health burden of smoking, it said.

WHO cited studies showing that the poorest households in Bangladesh spend almost 10 times more on tobacco than they do on education. In Vietnam smokers spend 2.5 times more on tobacco than they do on clothes and 1.9 times more than they spend on health care.

In South Africa, poor households spend about 4 percent of their total expenditure on cigarettes. Money that could be used on food, shelter and childrens' education instead goes up in smoke.

A farm worker could feed each of his 3 children with an egg, four slices of bread, an apple and a third of a litre of milk every day, if he bought food instead of tobacco.

A pack-a-day smoker could save R4500 a year if he or she quit smoking.

Tobacco makes families poorer since tobacco users are much more likely to fall ill and die at a younger age. This deprives families of much needed income and increases health-care costs. Tobacco users are also less productive while they are alive due to increased sickness - this too means they will earn less.

The economic costs of tobacco use to the nation are equally devastating. A healthy economy needs a healthy workforce, while a sick workforce results in a sick economy. Ill health caused by tobacco affects productivity in every industry in our country.

In South Africa, over 2.5 million working days are lost each year because workers get sick from the diseases caused by smoking.

Economic importance of industry is exaggerated.

The World Bank has dismissed suggestions that tobacco control policies will harm the economy or cause job losses. The Bank says most countries would see no job losses if tobacco use fell. Money that smokers once spent on cigarettes would instead be spent on other goods and services, generating other jobs to replace any lost from the tobacco industry.

Claims that the government would lose billions in taxes if the tobacco industry disappeared are also untrue. It is ordinary people not the tobacco companies who pay the excise taxes and VAT on tobacco products. The tobacco companies are merely efficient tax collectors. If the industry were to disappear tomorrow, the government could still collect the same of amount of tax from the economy by adjusting other taxes.

In short, tobacco contributes to poverty through loss of income, loss of productivity, disease and death. Together, tobacco and poverty form a vicious circle from which it is often difficult to escape.

Act now

The National Council Against Smoking calls upon all tobacco users to quit on World No-Tobacco Day, even if only for a day. It could be the first step to a healthier, wealthier life.

Anyone wanting free help in quitting tobacco can call the Tobacco or Health Information Line on 011 720 3145


For further information please contact:

1. Dr Yussuf Saloojee, Executive Director, 011 643 2958

2. Mr Peter Ucko, Director, 082 454 9889

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