The tobacco industry and the UN Sustainable Development Goals

The UN Sustainable Development Goals are designed to promote peace and prosperity for all


The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) [1] are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure everyone enjoys peace and prosperity. Tackling tobacco is essential to achieve these global goals.

Big Tobacco undermines the development goals with deadly products, bad business practice, destructive environmental practices and shocking labour standards. In fact, each and every one of the SDGs is negatively impacted by the tobacco industry.

Take poverty. 80% of the tobacco industry’s sales volume comes from emerging markets (PDF) in lower and middle income countries. [2] It is estimated that in 2012 British American Tobacco products cost the world economy $152 billion. [3] Smoking prevalence is often much higher among lower income groups least able to afford it, hindering the SDG around inequality reduction.

Hunger is another area where the tobacco industry has a devastating impact. Around 53,000 km2 of land is given over to tobacco plants around the world(PDF) [4] — a larger land area than Costa Rica, Switzerland or The Netherlands [5]. This is fertile land that could be put to much better use growing plants for food or medicinal uses. In Malawi in 2008, for instance, each hectare used to grow tobacco produces one ton of leaf. The same area of land produced 14.6 tons of potatoes — a valuable resource in a country where more than a quarter of the population is under-nourished.[4]

SDG 12 on the theme of responsible consumption and production is another adversely affected by the tobacco industry. An addictive and deadly product, sold by duplicitous companies, manufactured in environmentally destructive ways, frequently exploiting child labour [6], is the very antithesis of this goal.

Clearly the world will be a happier, healthier, wealthier and more productive place if we collectively reach the Sustainable Development Goals. However, this will be extremely difficult until we #ActOnTobacco.

This is recognised in the SDGs themselves, which call on governments to strengthen implementation of the global tobacco treaty, the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) [7].

The FCTC contains a comprehensive set of measures designed to protect present and future generations from the devastating health, social, environmental and economic consequences of tobacco consumption.

Here’s how you can #ActOnTobacco:

  • Share this story with your networks using #ActOnTobacco
  • Share your experiences of tobacco and how it has impacted you, using #ActOnTobacco
  • Think about the many ways the tobacco industry is preventing us from reaching the SDGs and ask them what they are going to do about it

All hyperlinks accessed on 20 April 2017
[1] United Nations. Sustainable development goals. [Accessed April 2017]
[2]Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. The global cigarette industry. [Accessed April 2017]
[3] Based on BAT global market share of 11% and figure for global harm. Wang A. Smoking costs the world economy $1 trillion per year, World Health Organization says. Washington Post. 10 January 2017.
[4] Framework Convention Alliance. Tobacco: A barrier to sustainable development. March 2015.
[5] List of Countries of the World. Countries of the world ordered by land area. [Accessed April 2017]
[6] Rodionova Z. Imperial Tobacco and British American Tobacco linked to child labour in Indonesia. The Guardian. 25 May 2016.
[7] World Health Organization. WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. [Accessed April 2017]