Poncelas 2003
Tobacco and poverty: a vicious circle

The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine is presenting a display to mark World No Tobacco Day on 27th and 28th of May.

In 1989, the World Health Organization declared 31 May World No Tobacco Day, a day set aside to recognize the devastating consequences tobacco has triggered globally. Tobacco currently causes 4.9 million deaths annually, expected to rise to 10 million by 2030.

This year’s theme is Tobacco and poverty: a vicious circle.

Tobacco exacerbates poverty. Globally and nationally, the poor have the highest prevalence of smoking and consequently bear the brunt of the tobacco pandemic. An estimated 70% of the 10 million deaths from tobacco will occur in the developing world. In low- and middle-income countries, the impact of smoking on individuals is also economically harmful, with smokers diverting a substantial portion of their already scarce resources on cigarettes rather than, for example, food.

Tobacco use leads to inequities in both health and socio-economic status. The LSHTM display this year depicts adverse impacts on poverty caused by tobacco. In the UK, the average smoker spends over £1200 per year on cigarettes. Given that tobacco is a highly addictive substance, this is not a wholly voluntary cost. Spending on tobacco represents a significant portion of income diverted away from essential goods.

For the approximately 2.9 million smokers in the UK living below the poverty line, tobacco represents an unnecessary financial burden of £3.4 billion annually. Globally, such imbalances are played out with devastating consequences.

Bangladesh is one of the poorest countries in the world. Malnutrition is extremely high and families can ill afford spending resources on cigarettes. When personal expenditures were compared, smokers in Bangladesh spent more money on cigarettes than they did on health and education. This pattern is repeated throughout the developing world where tobacco trans national companies are enjoying record profits.

Sue Lawrence, research assistant from the Public and Environmental Health Research Unit, who organised the display comments:

"The health impacts of tobacco are beyond dispute, and are disproportionately borne by the poor. Additionally, however, tobacco use exacerbates poverty. We chose to depict the financial hardship associated with tobacco addiction."

Marta Poncelas Ramon provided the photographs for the display. Marta has lived in Barcelona and Madrid and currently works as a free-lance photographer in London. She graduated with a degree in Photography and Digital Arts from Westminster University in 2000.

Alongside extensive experience in portrait, studio and digital photography, she maintains a passion for social documentary.

She uses her work as a platform to comment on current and relevant social issues. To see more of Marta’s work, please visit her website at
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