Tobacco use causes almost one third of cancer deaths in the WHO European Region

With 9.6 million deaths in 2018, cancer is the second-leading cause of death globally. While it is caused by multiple risk factors, tobacco use, responsible for 25% of all cancer deaths globally and linked to at least 20 cancer types, has a significant impact. In 2018 27% of all cancers in the WHO European Region were attributed to tobacco use. The burden of cancer continues to grow worldwide, with the greatest increase reported in low- and middle-income countries.

“Globally, 2.4 million deaths from cancer due to use of tobacco products occur every year”
WHO report on cancer, 2020.

Lung cancer is the most common cancer, with one of the lowest survival rates worldwide. Tobacco use directly contributes to the deaths caused by lung cancer – 85% of deaths from lung cancer were attributable to tobacco use in 2018 in the WHO European Region. The good news is that lung cancer is largely preventable and almost nine out of ten lung cancers can be prevented if current smokers would quit, which is a strong argument for making tobacco control a priority among the risk factor reduction strategies for cancer.

On 4 February 2020 WHO and the International Agency for Research on Cancer published two reports:

  • the WHO report on cancer: setting priorities, investing wisely and providing care for all, and
  • the World Cancer Report: Cancer Research for Cancer Prevention

The reports highlight a wide range of proven interventions to prevent new cases of cancer. One of the priorities set in the reports is to “strengthen tobacco control to reduce cancer deaths by 25%” through implementation of the WHO “best buys” for NCDs.