The tobacco epidemic is a global problem with devastating health, social, economic and environmental consequences. Nowadays, it is responsible for more than 5 million deaths per year worldwide, and for health and environmental costs that exceed tax revenues from tobacco taxation. Tobacco takes more lives than tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and malaria combined, and it is the leading cause of preventable premature death in the world.
Increasing consumption and production of cigarette and other tobacco products -particularly in developing countries-; the rise in mortality attributable to tobacco observed in these countries; and the burden this imposes on families, low-income population and national health systems, make tobacco control policies a priority in the governments’ international agenda.
Smoking is an addiction scientifically recognized. Nicotine is an addictive substance, and cigarettes and other products containing tobacco are designed to create and maintain dependence. At the same time, many of the cigarettes' components and the smoke they produce are pharmacologically active, toxic, mutagenic and carcinogenic, which makes the exposure to tobacco smoke a cause of disease and death in non-smokers.
In the last few years, significant advances have been made in the tobacco control field. In 2003, more than 170 countries signed the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), the first international public health treaty. The Convention provides the implementation of a global strategy to fight against the tobacco epidemic. According to the Argentinean National Ministry of Health, tobacco affects 9.000.000 people in this country. Tobacco use is the main cause of preventable premature death, causing over 40.000 deaths annually. According to the Instituto de Efectividad Clínica y Sanitaria (Institute for Clinical and Health Effectiveness), each year Argentina spends more than 20 million pesos in addressing diseases caused by tobacco addiction, and 6000 non-smokers die as a consequence of exposure to second-hand smoke.
Despite this situation, Argentina is the only South American country -and one of the few in the world- to have signed but not ratified the FCTC.
Only the actions by the governments and the civil society will help counter the devastating effects of this epidemic on public health.