The WHO is also warning countries, including those in the Caribbean of the dire environmental impact of tobacco production, distribution and waste.
It said that tougher measures were needed to rein in tobacco use and urged countries to ban smoking in the workplace and indoor public spaces, outlaw marketing of tobacco products and hike cigarette prices.
“Tobacco threatens us all. Tobacco exacerbates poverty, reduces economic productivity, contributes to poor household food choices, and pollutes indoor air,” WHO director general Margaret Chan said in a statement.
In a report, the WHO warned that the annual death toll of seven million people had jumped from four million at the turn of the century, making tobacco the world’s single biggest cause of preventable death.
“By 2030, more than 80 per cent of the deaths will occur in developing countries, which have been increasingly targeted by tobacco companies seeking new markets to circumvent tightening regulation in developed nations,” the report warned.
It said that tobacco use also brings an economic cost with the WHO estimating that it drains more than US$1.4 trillion from households and governments each year in healthcare expenditures and lost productivity, or nearly two per cent of the global gross domestic product.
In addition to the health and economic costs linked to smoking, the WHO report also examined the environmental impact of everything from tobacco production to the cigarette butts and other waste produced by smokers.
“From start to finish, the tobacco life cycle is an overwhelmingly polluting and damaging process,” WHO Assistant Director-General Oleg Chestnov said in the report.
The report detailed how growing tobacco often requires large quantities of fertilisers and pesticides, and it warned that tobacco farming had become the main cause of deforestation in several countries.
The report estimates that the industry emits nearly four million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent annually, the same as around three million transatlantic flights. And waste from the process contains over 7,000 toxic chemicals that poison the environment, including human carcinogens, WHO said.
Once in the hands of the consumer, tobacco smoke emissions spewed thousands of tonnes of human carcinogens, toxic substances and greenhouse gases into the environment.
WHO said cigarette butts and other tobacco waste make up the largest number of individual pieces of litter in the world and urged governments to take strong measures to rein in tobacco use.