World no Tobacco Day: Why Fighting against Tobacco Means Fighting for Sustainable Development?


Annually, May 31 is marked as World no Tobacco Day. This day is intended to encourage 24- hours of abstinence from tobacco consumption and to increase awareness about its negative effects. In 2017, the World Health Organization devoted this day to the theme of development (WHO 2017). One might find the connection between tobacco and development not particularly evident. This is largely because ‘development’ is a vague term in itself, and might have various interpretations in both academia and media. In the common perception, development is most often associated with economic growth. However, Human Development Index, for instance, also considers such indicators as life expectancy, education, and income per capita (UNDP 2017). Where does tobacco hamper the performance of each of these indicators?

Health-wise, tobacco harmfully affects all the components of development. Tobacco consumption decreases life expectancy, being responsible for numerous respiratory diseases, cardiovascular diseases, and cancers. Tobacco negatively affects bone health, eyesight, teeth and gum health, reduces fertility, and contributes to the development of type 2 diabetes mellitus and rheumatoid arthritis among others. More than 6 million of tobacco-induced deaths globally are the result of direct tobacco use, while around 890 000 are the result of non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke (WHO 2017).


Regarding the harmful impact on education, tobacco drives away the funds which could have been spent on educational activities, as well as increases school abstinence rates. In the economic perspective, smoking puts high economic costs on a country health care system and a country budget in general. Direct costs of tobacco are manifested in inpatient care, outpatient visits, drugs and diagnostic tests. Indirect costs include productivity loss, morbidity cost, and the cost of premature mortality  (Rezaei 2013). Again, tobacco drives away both human and economic resources which can be potentially used for activities beneficial for society.

Lastly, development is a global concern; as well as tobacco is. Such issues as cross-border trade, large-scale tax evasion, tobacco smuggling and counterfeit cigarettes (cigarettes produced without the authorization of the rightful owners) simply cannot be tackled within the borders of a single country. Moreover, tobacco multiplies global inequalities. Evidence shows that the burden of tobacco-related diseases is disproportionally distributed among nations which are already experiencing higher rates of poverty, disease, and marginalization; and are thus exacerbating poverty even more (Malone et al. 2017).

Furthermore, tobacco industry contributes to the world hunger by taking away the lands which could have been potentially used for producing food. Tobacco cultivation is a resource-consuming business requiring a lot of water and chemical additives; as well as destroying and degrading the lands. The harmful impact of the tobacco industry on climate change, litter, and forest fires is enormous and is constantly growing (The Tobacco Atlas 2017). World no Tobacco Day is another reminder that fighting against tobacco equals the fight for sustainable development.

Image source: WHO

notobaccopicgirl Svitlana Nidzvetska is a young public health expert with a degree in Public Health in Disasters and experience in working with NCD programme in WHO/Europe and relief activities in Ukraine. She is currently working in the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria in Geneva.

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