Cause area

Tobacco Control

Notice about research

Giving What We Can no longer conducts our own research into charities and cause areas. Instead, we're relying on the work of organisations including J-PAL, GiveWell, and the Open Philanthropy Project, which are in a better position to provide more comprehensive research coverage.

These research reports represent our thinking as of late 2016, and much of the information will be relevant for making decisions about how to donate as effectively as possible. However we are not updating them and the information may therefore be out of date.

Tobacco kills up to half of all people who use it (i.e. shortens their lifespan), and has a global death toll of almost 6 million people per year (600,000 of whom are non-smokers exposed to secondhand smoke). This figure is expected to rise to 10 million deaths per year by the middle of this century, growing most quickly in developing countries.

Across the developing world, tobacco use accounts for 9.92% of all deaths (and 4.9% of DALYs incurred), which is a greater proportion than all deaths from malaria (2.05%), from HIV (3.1%), from nutritional deficiencies (1.56%), or even from all physical injuries (9.5%). These deaths due to tobacco are largely made up of cancer deaths but also includes various other diseases for which tobacco use increases incidences or chance of death - among them, ischemic heart disease, stroke, hypertensive heart disease, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, lower respiratory infections, and tuberculosis. Interventions which reduce tobacco use hence have the potential to reduce the burden of a wide range of diseases.

Given the high mortality figures due to tobacco-related conditions, as well as the potential tractability and neglectedness, it is not surprising that tobacco control features on the WHO’s Best Buys list. The 2015 Disease Control Priorities 3rd Edition (DCP3), which details highly cost-effective intervention and treatment strategies for various diseases, also recommends tobacco control as one of the most cost-effective health interventions available.