The findings, published today (19 December) in a new WHO report, demonstrate how government-led action can protect communities from tobacco, save lives and prevent people suffering tobacco-related harm.
“Declines in tobacco use amongst males mark a turning point in the fight against tobacco,” said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “For many years now we had witnessed a steady rise in the number of males using deadly tobacco products. But now, for the first time, we are seeing a decline in male use, driven by governments being tougher on the tobacco industry. WHO will continue working closely with countries to maintain this downward trend.”
During nearly the past two decades, overall global tobacco use has fallen, from 1.397 billion in 2000 to 1.337bn in 2018, or by approximately 60 million people, according to the WHO global report on trends in prevalence of tobacco use 2000-2025 third edition. This has been largely driven by reductions in the number of females using these products (346m in 2000 down to 244m in 2018, or a fall over around 100m). Over the same period, male tobacco use had risen by around 40m, from 1.050bn in 2000 to 1.093bn in 2018 (or 82% of the world’s current 1.337bn tobacco users).
But positively, the new report shows that the number of male tobacco users has stopped growing and is projected to decline by more than 1m fewer male users come 2020 (or 1.091bn) compared to 2018 levels, and 5m less by 2025 (1.087bn). By 2020, WHO projects there will be 10m fewer tobacco users, male and female, compared to 2018, and another 27m fewer by 2025, amounting to 1.299bn. Some 60% of countries have been experiencing a decline in tobacco use since 2010. “Reductions in global tobacco use demonstrate that when governments introduce and strengthen their comprehensive evidence-based actions, they can protect the well-being of their citizens and communities,” said WHO Health Promotion Director Dr Ruediger Krech.
Despite such gains, progress in meeting the global target set by governments to cut tobacco use by 30% by 2025 remains off track. Based on current progress, a 23% reduction will be achieved by 2025. Only 32 countries are currently on track to reach the 30% reduction target. However, the projected decline in tobacco use among males, who represent the overwhelming majority of tobacco users, can be built on and used to accelerate efforts to reach to the global target, said Dr Vinayak Prasad, head of WHO’s tobacco control unit.
“Fewer people are using tobacco, which is a major step for global public health,” said Dr Prasad. “But the work is not yet done. Without stepped up national action, the projected fall in tobacco use still won’t meet global reduction targets. We must never let up in the fight against Big Tobacco.”
Other key findings of the report included:
• Children: Approximately 43m children (aged 13-15) used tobacco in 2018 (14m girls and 29m boys).
• Women: The number of women using tobacco in 2018 was 244m. By 2025, there should be 32m fewer women tobacco users. Most gains are being made in low- and middle-income countries. Europe is the region making the slowest progress in reducing tobacco use among females.
• Asian trends: WHO’s South East Asian Region has the highest rates of tobacco use, of more than 45% of males and females aged 15 years and over, but the trend is projected to decline rapidly to similar levels seen in the European and Western Pacific regions of around 25% by 2025. The Western Pacific Region, including China, is projected to overtake South East Asia as the region with the highest average rate among men.
• Trends in the Americas: Fifteen countries in the Americas are on track to reach the 30% tobacco use reduction target by 2030, making it the best performing of WHO’s six regions.
• Policy action: more and more countries are implementing effective tobacco control measures, which are having the desired effect of reducing tobacco use. Tobacco taxes not only help reduce tobacco consumption and health-care costs, but also represent a revenue stream for financing for development in many countries.
Every year, more than 8m people die from tobacco use, approximately half of its users. More than 7m of those deaths are from direct tobacco use while around 1.2m are due to non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke. Most tobacco related deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, areas that are targets of intensive tobacco industry interference and marketing.
The WHO report covers use of cigarettes, pipes, cigars, waterpipes, smokeless tobacco products (like bidis, cheroots and kretek) and heated tobacco products. Electronic cigarettes are not covered in the report.
The report supports the monitoring of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target 3.a, which calls for strengthening implementation of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC).
The WHO “MPOWER” measures are in line with the WHO FCTC and have been shown to save lives and reduce costs from averted healthcare expenditure, including:
• Monitoring tobacco use and prevention policies.
• Protecting people from tobacco smoke.
• Offering help to quit tobacco use.
• Warning people about the dangers of tobacco.
• Enforcing bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship.
• Raising taxes on tobacco.
World No Tobacco Day 2021:
“Tobacco use is the single largest avoidable health risk. It is the leading cause of preventable cancer, with 27% of all cancers attributed to tobacco. With Europe's Beating Cancer Plan, we are proposing bold and ambitious actions on prevention to reduce the use of tobacco. We have set a very clear objective - to create a smoke-free generation in Europe, where less than 5% of people use tobacco by 2040. This would be significant change compared to the around 25% today. And reducing the use of tobacco is crucial to reach this goal. With no tobacco use, nine out ten cases of lung cancer could be avoided.
"Many, if not the majority, of smokers have attempted to quit at some point in their lives. The latest Eurobarometer figures speak for themselves: if we manage to support smokers trying to quit to follow this through successfully, we could already halve the smoking prevalence. On the other hand, three out of four smokers who quit, or tried to stop, did not use any help.
"The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the vulnerability of smokers, who have up to a 50% higher risk of developing severe disease and death from the virus, a fact that has triggered millions of them to want to quit tobacco. But quitting can be difficult. We can do more to help, and this is precisely what this year's World Tobacco Day is about – committing to quitting.
"We need to increase the motivation to leave smoking behind. Stopping smoking is a win-win situation at all ages, always. We need to step up our game and ensure that EU tobacco legislation is enforced more strictly, especially as regards sales to minors and campaigns on giving up smoking. It also needs to keep pace with new developments, be sufficiently up to date to address the endless flow of new tobacco products entering the market. This is particularly important to protect younger people.
"My message is simple: quitting is saving your life: every moment is good to quit, even if you have been smoking forever.”
 Eurobarometer 506. Attitudes of Europeans towards tobacco and electronic cigarettes. 2021
Why there should be no harmonized excise duties on nicotine-free e-cigarettes in the EU
Since 2016, the European Commission has been working on a revision to the Tobacco Excise Directive, the ‘TED’, the legal framework ensuring excise duties are applied in the same way, and to the same products, throughout the Single Market, writes Donato Raponi, honorary professor of European Tax Law, former head of excise duties unit, consultant in tax law.
Member states, through the Council of the EU, recently asked for a range of new products to be contained within the TED. It includes e-cigarettes which contain no tobacco but do contain nicotine. However, there are also e-cigarettes with no nicotine in them and their fate is unclear.
But why should a directive that has, until now, been only for tobacco be extended to include products which contain neither tobacco nor nicotine? Isn’t this a step too far?
The EU's constitution, enshrined in the Treaties of the European Union, is very clear that before proposing any legislative initiative, some key questions must be addressed.
The EU rules1 explain very clearly that products should be included in the TED only to ensure the proper functioning of the internal market and to avoid distortions of competition.
It is by no means clear that a harmonized excise treatment of nicotine-free products, such as nicotine-free e-liquids, across Europe will help to alleviate any such distortions.
There is very limited evidence on the extent to which consumers view e-liquids without nicotine as a viable substitute for e-liquids with nicotine in them. The European Commission’s recently published Eurobarometer study on the attitudes of Europeans towards tobacco and electronic cigarettes has nothing to say on this question. And the evidence from the available market research experts is limited at best.
It is, consequently, virtually impossible to know how many consumers – if, indeed, any at all – would switch to e-liquids without nicotine if only nicotine containing e-liquids were subject to an EU level excise duty.
What we do know, however, is that almost everybody who consumes tobacco products already covered by the TED does not view nicotine-free e-cigarettes as viable substitutes for them. And that is why most cigarette smokers who switch to alternative products look for other products containing nicotine.
There may be parallels between this and the excise treatment of alcohol-free beer, the latter not being, covered by the EU Alcohol Directive. Although it is designed to be an alternative product, this does not mean that alcohol-free beer is viewed as a strong substitute by most of the people who drink alcoholic beer. Member states have not applied a harmonised excise on alcohol-free beer and so far, the effective functioning of the Single Market has not been damaged.
Even if the absence of a harmonized excise on nicotine-free e-cigarettes were to distort competition, it must be material enough to justify any EU level intervention. Case law from the CJEU confirms how distortions of competition must be ‘appreciable’ to justify any changes to EU legislation.
Simply put, if there is only limited impact, there is no rationale for EU intervention.
The market for e-cigarettes without nicotine is currently very small. Euromonitor data shows that nicotine-free e-liquids for open systems represented only 0.15% of all EU tobacco and nicotine product sales in 2019. Eurobarometer reveals that while nearly half of Europe’s e-cigarette consumers use e-cigarettes with nicotine every day, only 10% of them use e-cigarettes without nicotine daily.
With no clear evidence of any material competition between nicotine-free e-cigarettes and the products already covered in the TED, together with the low sales of nicotine-free products, the test of there being an ‘appreciable’ distortion of competition is not – at least at the moment – obviously being met.
Even if there is no case for new EU-level legislative measures for nicotine free e-cigarettes, this does not stop individual member states from levying a national excise on such products. This has already been the practice across member states so far.
Germany does not, for instance, need an EU Directive to levy its domestic excise on coffee, while France, Hungary, Ireland and Portugal levy a tax on sugary drinks without any EU Soda Excise Directive in place.
The case of non-nicotine e-liquids is no different.
There is nothing to stop any member state from taxing non-nicotine e-liquids at its own pace without the unnecessary intervention of the EU.
1 Article 113 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union
Illicit tobacco trade: Nearly 370 million cigarettes seized in 2020
International operations involving the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) led to the seizure of nearly 370 million illegal cigarettes in 2020. The majority of the cigarettes were smuggled from countries outside the EU but destined for sale on EU markets. Had they reached the market, OLAF estimates that these black market cigarettes would have caused losses of around €74 million in customs and excise duties and VAT to EU and member state budgets.
OLAF supported national and international customs and law enforcement agencies from across the world in 20 operations during 2020, in particular providing vital information on the identification and tracking of lorries and/or containers loaded with cigarettes misdeclared as other goods at the EU borders. OLAF exchanges intelligence and information in real time with EU member states and third countries, and if there is clear evidence that the shipments are destined for the EU contraband market, national authorities are ready and able to step in and stop them.
OLAF Director-General Ville Itälä said: “2020 was a challenging year in so many ways. While many legitimate businesses were forced to slow or halt production, the counterfeiters and smugglers continued unabated. I am proud to say that OLAF’s investigators and analysts played a vital role in helping to track and seize these illegal tobacco shipments, and that OLAF’s cooperation with authorities across the globe has remained strong despite the challenging conditions. Our joint efforts have not only helped save millions of euros in lost revenues and kept millions of contraband cigarettes of the market, they have also helped us get closer to the ultimate goal of identifying and closing down the criminal gangs behind this dangerous and illegal trade.”
A total of 368,034,640 cigarettes destined for illegal sale in the EU were seized in operations involving OLAF during 2020; of these 132,500,000 cigarettes were seized in non-EU countries (primarily Albania, Kosovo, Malaysia and Ukraine) while 235,534,640 cigarettes were seized in EU member states.
OLAF has also identified clear patterns with regard to the origins of this illicit tobacco trade: of the cigarettes seized in 2020, some 163,072,740 originated in the Far East (China, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia), while 99,250,000 were from the Balkans/Eastern Europe (Montenegro, Belarus, Ukraine). A further 84,711,900 originated in Turkey, while 21,000,000 came from the UAE.
The main cigarette smuggling operations reported by OLAF in 2020 involved collaborations with authorities in Malaysia and Belgium, Italy and Ukraine, as well as a number involving authorities from across the EU and elsewhere.
OLAF mission, mandate and competences
OLAF’s mission is to detect, investigate and stop fraud with EU funds.
OLAF fulfils its mission by:
- Carrying out independent investigations into fraud and corruption involving EU funds, so as to ensure that all EU taxpayers’ money reaches projects that can create jobs and growth in Europe;
- contributing to strengthening citizens’ trust in the EU Institutions by investigating serious misconduct by EU staff and members of the EU Institutions, and;
- developing a sound EU anti-fraud policy.
In its independent investigative function, OLAF can investigate matters relating to fraud, corruption and other offences affecting the EU financial interests concerning:
- All EU expenditure: the main spending categories are Structural Funds, agricultural policy and rural
- development funds, direct expenditure and external aid;
- some areas of EU revenue, mainly customs duties, and;
- suspicions of serious misconduct by EU staff and members of the EU institutions.
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