Dr. Philippe Presles Head of R&D Health, AXA France

Towards a tobacco-free world

Imagine a world without tobacco. What would it look like? What would it change? Discover a world that exists only in the imagination, though it is well within our reach. In the News
May 31, 2018
$1 trillion
The annual cost of smoking worldwide

according to the WHO and the US National Cancer Institute

$269 million
Global tax revenue generated by tobacco

according to the WHO (2013-2014)

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Unfortunately, this is not the world we live in. Smoking still kills today. It increases cancer risk by astronomic rates (90% of all lung cancer deaths are linked to tobacco), as well as cardiovascular disease and other respiratory diseases, such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). It also intensifies the risk of several chronic diseases. Not to mention its broader impact on healthcare systems.

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In my view, Great Britain provides the best example of how to use all 3 of these levers simultaneously: it charges a high tax on tobacco sales, prohibited smoking in public places, banned all tobacco advertising, introduced plain tobacco packaging and conducted substantial media campaigns against the dangers of tobacco. Only in terms of reducing risk, especially in terms of tobacco replacements, does it show room for improvement. But that point should not overshadow the country’s remarkable results:

50 %
In 1974, half of adult men

and 40% of adult women smoked in Britain

19 %
Today, the rate has fallen to 16.9% of the population

respectively 19.1% for men and 14.9% for women

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It is also time to accelerate the changes underway. For example, I think we need to increase the number of lung cancer screenings: if we catch this cancer at an early stage, the patient’s survival rate is 15 times higher. We need to educate people even more on this topic: not only among smokers, but also within the medical community.

Further accelerating this change are the initiatives led by companies that are divesting from the tobacco industry, as we are doing at AXA along with companies like Scor, Calpers, AMP Capital and other corporate groups. Going forward, it is my sincerest hope that many other companies will follow suit.

Because a tobacco-free world is certainly attainable. And we are getting closer and closer to that goal. Perhaps one day, while flipping through their history books, schoolchildren will ask their teachers: “Why? How was it possible?” And their elders, with the perspective afforded by time, will simply reply: “It was time”. On that day, we will have finally turned one of the most baffling pages in the history of human health.

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