Tobacco corporations “took advantage of COVID-19″ to entice new smokers during the pandemic, while adolescent smoking threatens progress against the worldwide tobacco epidemic”, new research says.

While governments focused on the COVID-19 problem, the tobacco industry “used the opportunity to gain market shares, acquire new consumers, retain smokers, and polish their corporate image,” according to the newest edition of The Tobacco Atlas.

The Seventh Edition of the Tobacco Atlas, released by Vital Strategies and the Tobacco omics team at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), finds that although more people are being protected by effective regulatory interventions such as tobacco taxes, smoke-free public areas, access restrictions, and education, these efforts must be much more robust to compete with an industry whose gross profits will reach at least $60 billion in 2020.

1.1 billion people smoke and 200 million use other tobacco products, according to the research. Growing smoking rates among 13- to 15-year-olds in many countries and tobacco industry methods such as targeting poorer nations with weak regulatory regimes jeopardize global progress, the research said.

Jeffrey Drope, Ph.D., Research Professor of Public Health at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said the Tobacco Atlas is a warning to people who care about world health and economic growth. It proves tobacco control works: Global smoking rates fell to 19.6% in 2019 from 22.66% in 2007. But unequal and inadequate implementation of tobacco control measures means wealthier nations are unlocking the economic and health advantages of robust tobacco control while the industry preys on developing economies in ways that will lock in damages for a decade or more.

“The tobacco industry is a relic whose business relies on hooking adolescents on one of the most addictive and destructive consumer items ever conceived,” he said. Regulating this dangerous sector and its products vigorously is essential to terminate cigarettes as a mass consumer product, save hundreds of millions of lives, and boost economic development.

The atlas shows the health and economic implications of worldwide smoking. In 2019, tobacco-caused 8.67 million deaths (6.53 million males, 2.14 million women) and $2 trillion in economic damage. 1.3 million people perished from second-hand smoke. More than 50 million 13-to-15-year-olds smoke or use smokeless tobacco in 63 of 135 countries studied.

In the aftermath of COVID-19, governments are reprioritizing public health and investing in policies to enhance health and economic prosperity.  Tobacco control should be the priority for countries seeking recovery..” Tobacco taxes are four times more than health benefits. reducing smoking rates, discouraging young beginning, and earning income for health measures.

Graphic warnings and simple packaging are low-cost, high-impact solutions. Media campaigns may influence societal norms and force millions to quit at minimal cost; practically every nation underinvests in media.

Dr. Kelly Henning, who directs Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Public Health initiative, expressed worry. She said global leaders must speed up tobacco control efforts to safeguard young generations. Tobacco usage causes cancer, heart disease, lung disease, and diabetes.  The sooner governments restrict cigarettes and prevent young use, the more lives may be saved.

The survey also analyzed the increased popularity of e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products, especially among young and non-smokers. E-cigarettes are gaining market share in several nations. Dramatic increases in juvenile initiation, extensive industry marketing to kids and non-smokers, and usage of child-friendly tastes (e.g., fruit, candy, mint) have created concern and debate.

In the US, high school student usage peaked at 27% before COVID-19 (those reporting any e-cigarette use in the previous 30 days).

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