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Just-released data shows how Canada's tobacco use compares to that of the rest of the world

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Tobacco use continues to decline in Canada and globally, according to a new report from the World Health Organization (WHO). Approximately one in five adults worldwide consumed tobacco in 2022, down from one in three in 2000.

In Canada, the decrease has been even more significant, with tobacco use dropping from 28.3 per cent of adults in 2000 to just 11.4 per cent in 2022.

"Good progress has been made in tobacco control in recent years, but there is no time for complacency," Dr. Ruediger Krech, director of the WHO's Department of Health Promotion, said in a news release.

Southeast Asia currently has the highest percentage of tobacco users at 26.5 per cent of adults, according to the Geneva-based WHO, followed closely by Europe at 25.3 per cent. While both rates are declining, the WHO expects Europe to have the highest percentage of users by 2030.

Tobacco use rates among women in Europe are more than double the global average and reducing more slowly than in other regions, the WHO notes. Currently, 82 per cent of the world's 1.25 billion tobacco users are male.

"The largest number of female smokers per WHO Region are the 65 million living in the European Region, representing over 40 per cent of all female smokers in the world," the report explains. "The high-income countries have the largest proportion of female smokers at 50 per of all women smokers, or 76 million smokers."

An estimated 3.7 million Canadians currently use tobacco, according to the WHO, including 2.2 million men and 1.5 million women.

While 150 countries are successfully reducing tobacco use, the WHO says only 56 are on track to reach a voluntary international goal of decreasing use by 30 per cent between 2010 and 2025. The WHO expects Canada to exceed that target with a 44.6 per cent reduction, while the U.S. is estimated to achieve a 15.5 per cent reduction.

There are, however, several outliers to the global trend. At least nine countries, including Croatia, Slovakia and Qatar, are unlikely to experience a significant change, while six are expected to see increased tobacco use over time: Congo, Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, Oman and Moldova.

In an effort to curb smoking and tobacco use in Canada, new rules will go into effect this year that require health warnings to be placed directly on products like individual cigarettes.

Previous regulations introduced plain and standardized brown packaging for tobacco products in 2019, while large graphic health warnings were mandated in 2011.

Yukon became the last Canadian province or territory to ban smoking in indoor public spaces in 2008. Tobacco products are also heavily taxed while company advertising and sponsorship is largely restricted.

"While prevalence is decreasing in most countries, tobacco-related deaths can be expected to remain high until all the people who are still using tobacco in 2022, or formerly used tobacco over a long period in their life, have passed through the years when they are at greatest risk of dying from a tobacco-related illness," the report concludes.

"Countries implementing strong tobacco control measures can expect to wait about 30 years between turning the prevalence rate from increasing to decreasing and seeing an associated turnaround in the number of deaths due to tobacco."

In the face of "tobacco industry interference," the WHO is urging countries to bolster tobacco control measures and keep nicotine products like vapes and e-cigarettes away from children.

"I'm astounded at the depths the tobacco industry will go to pursue profits at the expense of countless lives," Krech said. "We see that the minute a government thinks they have won the fight against tobacco the tobacco industry seizes the opportunity to manipulate health policies and sell their deadly products."

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