Death from tobacco

Compared to the rest of the world, the WHO European Region has one of the highest proportions of deaths attributable to tobacco. 16% of all deaths in adults over 30 in the WHO European Region were due to tobacco. This is in contrast to the African or the Eastern Mediterranean Regions, with 3% and 7% proportion of tobacco-attributable deaths, respectively, and with the global average of 12%.

In every region, more men than women die from tobacco, but this difference is very pronounced in the WHO European Region, with a male to female mortality ratio of 5:1. Of the premature deaths in the Region in 2004, almost 1 in every 5 in the 30–44 age group was attributable to tobacco use, and 1 in every 3 among those aged 45–59 years.

Effect of tobacco on health

Tobacco use or exposure to tobacco smoking has a negative impact on health across the life-course.

  • During fetal development, tobacco can increase rates of stillbirth and selected congenital malformations.
  • In infancy, it can cause sudden infant death syndrome. In childhood and adolescence, tobacco can cause disability from respiratory diseases.
  • The negative impact of tobacco use becomes particularly visible, however, from about the age of 30 years. In relatively young middle-aged adults, it can include increased rates of cardiovascular disease.
  • Later in life, higher rates of cancer (especially lung cancer), as well as death associated with diseases of the respiratory system.

Although tobacco is usually associated with noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), such as cancers and heart and respiratory diseases, tobacco is also a major factor in deaths from communicable diseases. For example, tuberculosis can at times be latent or dormant, until activated by tobacco use.

Within NCDs, 85% of the deaths caused by cancer of the trachea, bronchus and lung are attributed to tobacco, and 16% of the deaths caused by ischaemic heart disease are tobacco-attributed. For communicable diseases, 26% of tuberculosis deaths are attributed to tobacco, as are 24% of all lower respiratory infection deaths.