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Tobacco Control

Tobacco could kill one billion people this century, yet the tobacco industry aggressively markets to children, promotes pseudoscience to confuse, and lobbies against effective policies to reduce smoking and protect health.

Why It Matters

  • 1.3b people use tobacco products.
  • 8.67m The number of people tobacco kills each year through both direct use and secondhand smoke.
  • 1 of 2 tobacco users are killed by tobacco.

Our Current Focus

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Unless urgent action is taken to reverse this global epidemic, tobacco will kill as many as one billion people this century, making it the greatest single source of preventable death and disease.

This deadly product is linked to the onset of all four of the most common noncommunicable diseases: cancer, heart and lung disease, and diabetes. In addition to the high costs of treating diseases caused by its use, tobacco often kills people at the peak of their wage-earning capacity. This deprives families of their breadwinners, robs nations of a healthy and productive workforce, and contributes to the cycle of poverty that exists in many countries. It threatens global development.

As a partner in the Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use, Vital Strategies supports the adoption of lifesaving policies that reach hundreds of millions of people around the world. Since 2007, we have worked with 41 countries to deliver evidence-based population-level campaigns and build local capacity to raise awareness about the dangers of tobacco. Our campaigns encourage quitting, delay initiation and support policy goals, such as smoke-free environments and tobacco tax increases. Over the long term, this helps to change behaviors around the acceptability of smoking and attitudes about the tobacco industry. Much of our work is focused in Asia and Latin America. Most recently we are also working in the Eastern Mediterranean region. To date, our campaigns have been seen by more than 2 billion people.

Among our accomplishments:

  • Our advocacy campaigns have contributed to comprehensive national tobacco control laws passed in Mexico, Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and Senegal. Smoking decreased by 17% in Russia following the legislation.
  • In China, more than 200 million people are now covered by smoke-free legislation banning the use of tobacco products in indoor and outdoor public spaces in 10 cities, including Beijing. New legislation passed and has been enforced with support of our technical assistance and strategic planning.
  • In India, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Turkey our advocacy and media campaigns supported passage of new tobacco taxes (the most effective policy for reducing tobacco use). Smoking went down significantly following the tax increases.
  • In Bangladesh, CDC Foundation data shows that adult tobacco use prevalence has declined 17% since the early years of the Initiative.
  • Our research has contributed to the scientific literature on the importance and cost-effectiveness of population-level tobacco control campaigns in low- and middle-income countries. This includes research that estimates how many lives can be saved if mass media campaigns are implemented and research which shows that population-level campaigns are a cost-effective way to change social norms and behavior.
  • Our global advocacy work led to the inclusion of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
  • Each year we train thousands of government officials and advocates in strategic communications. 

In 2021 alone, Vital Strategies supported more than 80 media campaigns, promoting policies proven to save lives. These campaigns helped to achieve 15 national and subnational wins in nine priority countries, reaching at least two billion people. Our work supported, new national comprehensive legislation in Mexico and Ukraine. smoke-free laws in Vietnam, increases in tobacco taxes in Indonesia and Turkey and stronger, larger pack warnings in Mexico and Bangladesh.

As with all of our campaigns, each was crafted for maximum impact using social science research and innovative digital strategy. They were carried out in cooperation with local governments and advocates by on-the-ground staff with deep in-country knowledge. Our anti-industry social media campaigns drew more than 1.8 million followers from around the world who were galvanized to actions from “die-ins” at shopping malls, to doctors championing tax increases that protect children from additive products.

When Covid-19 hit, we added risk communication to our toolbox, launching campaigns to help governments get the word out that tobacco use can make Covid-19 even more deadly. These campaigns ran in Pakistan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Mexico and India. Today, as cigarette companies shift their focus to addict new users we shift too, making sure we have message-tested materials that can combat new products including e-cigarettes, heat not burn, and synthetic nicotine among other. 

Along with our mass media campaigns, policy and program support, and research, our work increasingly focuses on industry accountability. 

Read case studies highlighting our work with the Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use in priority countries.

Recent projects include:

The Tobacco Atlas

Working in partnership with the Tobacconomics team at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), Vital Strategies has released the seventh edition of The Tobacco Atlas, the leading resource for policymakers, journalists and advocates to understand the global tobacco epidemic. This richly designed, regularly updated guide details the global problem, country by country, and outlines proven solutions.

STOP, A Global Tobacco Industry Watchdog

The tobacco industry remains the biggest obstacle to reducing tobacco use. Vital Strategies is a partner in STOP, the world’s first tobacco industry watchdog, which was created to help address the industry’s global influence and dirty tactics. STOP conducts global monitoring, deep investigative research and timely analyses that expose and counter the tobacco industry’s efforts to undermine public health and its strategy to hook a new generation of tobacco users.

View resources from STOP including:

STOP Partners include:

Investigative Reporting Project

 Our tobacco industry investigative reporting project enables The Bureau of Investigative Journalism and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project to deliver ground-breaking and impactful exposés of tobacco industry tactics around the world. Their investigations have featured in prestigious broadcast documentary series like BBC’s Panorama, Channel 4’s Dispatches (UK) and RAI’s Report (Italy) and outlets ranging from The Daily Beast to Suddeutsche Zeitung, and Mail & Guardian to China Daily

Both partners’ work on the tobacco industry has been nominated for awards. Supported by funding from Vital Strategies, the editorial content of TBIJ’s and OCCRP’s reporting is wholly independent. 


TERM, Tobacco Enforcement and Reporting Movement, started in 2021, is a real-time digital media monitoring system used to track online tobacco marketing activities in India, Indonesia and Mexico, through the collection of news, social media posts, and media articles. Data is summarized into monthly and quarterly situation reports to aid policymakers and advocates in strengthening existing tobacco control policies. TERM also releases issue briefs, offering deeper dives into key tobacco control topic areas that have included bidi marketing in India and e-cigarette marketing in Indonesia.

For more information on our communication campaigns and to watch campaign videos visit Media Beacon, our public health media resource website, and Vital Strategies’ YouTube Channel.

Tobacco Control Resources