What can be done to prevent one billion tobacco-related deaths?

The world has made much progress in the fight against tobacco, but much more work still needs to be done, said Howard V. Koh, Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health Leadership at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Harvard Kennedy School in an interview for the May 4, 2016 edition of the Harvard Kennedy School Policy Cast. Koh says that tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death in the world, and that there will be a billion tobacco-related deaths in the 21st century.

He says that the burden of tobacco-related illnesses will fall disproportionately on low-income people in the coming decades. “Around the world we have a billion smokers, or more, and increasingly we’re seeing tobacco use in poorer populations,” said Koh.

He says that one effective tactic could be raising cigarette taxes, and then using that revenue to fund tobacco control initiatives, including efforts to protect children. Another way to protect adolescents would be to raise the age at which people can purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21—something which a recently signed bill in California will do.

Koh also discussed the controversy surrounding e-cigarettes, noting that the hope is that they can act as a powerful smoking cessation tool. But he also expressed concern that rising numbers of teens are using e-cigarettes. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently announced that it would ban the sale of e-cigarettes to anyone younger than 18.

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Learn more

Listen to Howard Koh’s interview on smokeless tobacco and baseball in a recent episode of Harvard Chan: This Week in Health

Getting residents on board with proposed smoking ban in public housing (Harvard Chan School news)