Industry makes more than £3,500 profit for every person killed by tobacco

In collaboration with the Press Association

The tobacco industry makes a profit of more than £3,500 for every person who dies from smoking, according to a new report by health experts.

In 2010 the six biggest tobacco firms pocketed a total £22.2 billion in profits, more than the combined earnings of Coca-Cola, McDonald's and Microsoft for that year, according to the latest edition of The Tobacco Atlas.

And last year alone, almost six million people died from their habit.

Tobacco will kill one billion people in the 21st century if trends continue, according to the report - one sixth of the current world population and the equivalent of a person dying every six seconds.

The authors say that smoking causes four non-infectious diseases - cancer, heart disease, diabetes and chronic respiratory disease - which together cause six in every 10 deaths worldwide.

The Tobacco Atlas also describes how cigarette companies continue to generate substantial profits.

The Atlas was unveiled at the 15th World Conference on Tobacco or Health, organised by the World Lung Foundation and American Cancer Society.

Now in its fourth edition, the book details the scale of tobacco production and consumption. It also discusses progress made in further controls on tobacco use, and exposes the latest tactics employed by 'Big Tobacco' to increase highly profitable sales.

The latest edition describes how the tobacco industry is increasingly making use of social media and trade litigation, and pursuing the production of smokeless products to undermine public-smoking bans being introduced by many states around the world.

And despite some successes in tobacco legislation in places like the UK and Australia, the number of global deaths caused by tobacco has tripled in the past 10 years.

But the Atlas points out that deaths due to tobacco are entirely avoidable, if adequate public policies are pursued.

These include increasing taxation; banning advertising; legislation; mass media anti-smoking campaigns; and health warnings.

In the UK, tobacco killed 6.6 million people in the last five decades. Research published in December estimated that smoking is behind around a fifth of all cases of cancer recorded in the UK.

Despite the clear damage done by tobacco, the firms which sell it consistently campaign against measures aimed at reducing smoking rates.

American Cancer Society chief executive John Seffrin said: "We can no longer deny nor accept the massive human and economic harm caused by tobacco.

"This book is a vital tool for not only public health advocates but also for governments, economists, educators and the media to use to tell the story of how a cohesive, well-funded tobacco industry is systematically causing preventable deaths and crippling economies.

"We know what needs to be done to counteract these tactics and save up to hundreds of millions of lives."

Dr Claire Knight, senior health information officer at Cancer Research UK, said: "Smoking is the biggest preventable cause of cancer worldwide. The best thing a smoker can do for their health is to quit."

She also said that it is crucial to prevent young people from starting smoking in the first place: "One key measure we're supporting is plain, standardised packaging for all tobacco products, so all packs are the same with large health warnings, helping make cigarettes less appealing to young people."

Copyright Press Association 2012