As-Sunnah Vol. 2 Issue No. 3


Excerpts from a report by the World Health Organization

Tobacco increases the poverty of individuals and families
Together, tobacco and poverty create a vicious circle. In most countries, tobacco use tends to be higher among the lower income groups. Poor families, in turn, spend a larger proportion of their income on tobacco. Money spent on tobacco cannot be spent on basic human needs such as food, shelter, education and health care. Tobacco can also worsen poverty among users and their families since tobacco users are at much higher risk of falling ill and dying prematurely of cancer, heart attack, respiratory diseases or other tobacco-related diseases, depriving families of much-needed income and imposing additional costs of health care. And, although, the tobacco industry provides jobs for thousands of people, the vast majority employed in the tobacco sector earn very little, while the big tobacco companies reap enormous profits.

The poor and tobacco consumption
It is the poorer and the poorest who tend to smoke the most. Globally, 84% of smokers live in developing and transitional economy countries.(5)

= At the country level, tobacco consumption varies by socioeconomic group. In many countries, at all levels of development and income, it is the poor who smoke the most and who bear most of the economic and disease burden of tobacco use.

= A study of smoking prevalence among men in Chennai (India) in 1997 shows that the highest rate is found among the illiterate population (64%). This prevalence decreases by number of years of schooling, and it decreases to about one fifth (21%) among those with more than 12 years of schooling.(6)
Diverting money to tobacco

= In many countries, especially in developing countries, the majority of people who use tobacco are poor and cannot afford to spend scarce household income on tobacco. Yet, their addiction to nicotine drives them to spend money on tobacco, diverting critical resources that could otherwise be spent on vital necessities. In the case of the poorest, where a significant portion of their meager income is required to buy food, expenditures on tobacco may make the difference between an adequate diet and malnutrition.

= The poorest households in Bangladesh spend almost 10 times as much on tobacco than on education. (7) And at country level, over 10.5 million currently malnourished people could have an adequate diet if money spent on tobacco were spent on food instead. (8)

= Some street children and other homeless people in India spend more on tobacco than on food, education or savings. (9)

= Preliminary results from an ongoing study in three provinces of Viet Nam found that over the course of a year, smokers spent 3.6 times more on tobacco than on education; 2.5 times more for tobacco than clothes; and 1.9 times more for tobacco than for health care. (10)

= Among lower income households in Egypt, more than 10% of household expenditures went to cigarettes or other forms of tobacco. (11)

= In Morocco, in 1999, households spent nearly as much on tobacco as they did on education. (12)

= Poor, rural households in south-west China spend over 11% of their total expenditures on cigarettes. - In many countries, workers spend a significant portion of their salaries on tobacco. (13)

The following table shows the amount of time that workers in selected countries would have to work in order to pay for a pack of Marlboro or local brand cigarettes and the equivalent amount of time that it would take to buy bread or rice instead. (14)

5. Guindon GE and Boisclair D. Past, Current and Future Trends in Tobacco Use. HNP Discussion paper, Economics of Tobacco Control Paper No.6. February 2003
6. Gajalakshmi GK et al. Global Patterns of Smoking and Smoking-Attributable Mortality. Tobacco Control in Developing Countries. Oxford University Press, 2000
7. Efroymson D et al. Hungry for Tobacco: An analysis of the economic impact of tobacco on the poor in Bangladesh. Tobacco Control 2001, 10:212-217
8. Ibid.
9. Shah S, Vaite S. Choosing tobacco over food: daily struggles for existence among the street children of Mumbai, India, 2002; and PATH Canada and Shah S, Vaite S. Pavement dwellers in Mumbai, India: Prioritizing tobacco over basic needs. In: Efroymson D, ed. Tobacco and Poverty, Observations from India and Bangladesh, 2002
10. ‘The Economics of Tobacco in Viet Nam: Tobacco Expenditures and their Opportunity Cost’, (ongoing research project of PATH Canada, Viet Nam, funded by Research for International Tobacco Control (RITC).
11. Nassar H. The economics of tobacco in Egypt, A New Analysis of Demand. HNP Discussion Paper, Economics of Tobacco Control Paper No. 8, March 2003
12. Aloui O. Analysis of the Economics of Tobacco in Morocco. HNP Discussion Paper. Economics of Tobacco Control Paper No.7, March 2003
13. Hu (radhi allahu anhu), Mao Z, Liu Y. Smoking, Standard of Living, and Poverty in China International Development for Research Centre/Research Institute for Tobacco Control and the World Bank, forthcoming.
14. Guindon GE et al. Special Communication. Trends and affordability of cigarette prices: ample room for tax increases and related health gains. Tobacco Control, 2002, 11:35-43

Taken from As-Sunnah Newsletter -


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