This post was written by Francisco J. Quintana (Legal Intern from Universidad Torcuato Di Tella) and Paula Avila Guillen (Institute Associate) of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law. Any questions or comments about this post can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Significant advances have been made and continue to be made in international tobacco control, yet more policy attention should be paid to the link between tobacco consumption and poverty. Though overall tobacco consumption is decreasing in the developed world, it is increasing in developing countries. While middle and upper classes are now more protected from the effects of tobacco, lower classes remain unprotected. Tobacco control policies, with emphasis on the link between tobacco consumption and poverty, need to be designed and enforced.
Tobacco tends to be consumed more by those who have lower incomes. 84% of the smokers worldwide live in developing and transitional economy countries. Even in most developing countries, smoking prevalence is higher among low income people. For the low income population, money spent on tobacco means that less money is available for basic necessities, such as food, shelter, education and health care. Tobacco also contributes to the poverty of individuals and families. Tobacco users are at a much higher risk of falling ill and dying prematurely of cancers, heart attacks, respiratory diseases or other tobacco-related diseases, thus depriving families of much-needed income and imposing additional health-care costs.
A recent study shows that in Argentina, Bangladesh, Francophone Africa, Mexico, Peru, and Vietnam tobacco products are very affordable. Moreover, this study demonstrates that high prices are a deterrent to tobacco use. By keeping tobacco taxes and prices low, and thereby making tobacco affordable, governments increase the likelihood that low income households will continue to struggle to meet their basic needs. Higher tobacco taxes and prices help to reduce poverty and governments need to embrace these types of policies.
The tobacco industry often argues that tobacco control will have a negative effect on overall employment, affecting primarily low income families. However, this argument lacks evidentiary support. Recent studies show that tobacco employment involves insufficient wages or financial return, unremitting debt, exposure to dangerous chemicals and other hazardous working conditions, green tobacco sickness, the use of child labor, and other human rights abuses.
Given this situation, it is imperative that health officials design tobacco control policies that address these issues and break the link between tobacco consumption and poverty.
 Otis W. Brawley, “Avoidable cancer deaths globally”, CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, 61: 67–68.
 WHO, Tobacco and Poverty: A Vicious Circle (Geneva: WHO, 2004). Available at: https://www.who.int/tobacco/communications/events/wntd/2004/en/wntd2004_ brochure_en.pdf
 M. Bobak et al., “Poverty and Smoking”, in: Jha P and Chaloupka F, eds. Tobacco Control in Developing Countries (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000).
 HealthBridge Foundation of Canada, Making the Tobacco and Poverty Link: Results from Research for Advocacy Projects in Africa, Asia, and Latin America (Ottawa: HealthBridge Foundation of Canada, 2011).
The views reflected in this expert column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily represent those of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law or Georgetown University. This blog is solely informational in nature, and not intended as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed and retained attorney in your state or country.