Brazil sees sharp reduction in number of smokers

The World Health Organization (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, of which Brazil is a signatory, has helped speed up the reduction in the number of smokers in the country, which already had been seen in previous years. The statement was made by Tânia Cavalcante, a doctor at Brazil’s National Cancer Institute (Inca) and the executive secretary with the National Commission implementing the convention. The convention is the first international health treaty aimed at curbing the world tobacco epidemic.

According to Vigitel, a phone-based survey on chronic diseases by the Health Ministry, the prevalence of smokers in Brazil stood at 10.1 percent in 2017, compared to 15.7 percent in 2006.

“Brazil is one of the countries with the most significant declines in the prevalence of smokers. The last Vigitel figures, for 2007—2018 numbers haven’t been disclosed—show that the percentage of smokers in Brazil was ten percent of the population aged 18 and above, which accounts for 15 or 16 million people,” Cavalcante told Agência Brasil on the World No Tobacco Day, celebrated today (May 31). She believes this is crucial, as it brings a significant impact in health care services.


The convention includes a number of laws—among them tax rises, restricted sales of cigarettes to minors, banned tobacco commercials, and educational measures, like sanitary awareness-raising campaigns with pictures on cigarette packages. The treaty was ratified by the Brazilian Congress and signed into law by the president in 2005.

“From 1989, when we had the first study, to 2008, shortly after Brazil ratified the convention approved in 2005, the reduction in the prevalence of smokers was 46 percent. Between 2008 and 2013, this rate went to 20 percent. In five years, we had a decline that was nearly half of what was achieved in the previous 20 years, when there was no convention, but rather some actions helping reduce smoking,” Cavalcante said.

According to Inca, 80 percent of smokers start smoking before the age of 18. Cavalcante went on to say that the amount of new smokers was also impacted by the reduction of smoking in Brazil. In 2009, 24 percent of children and adolescents tried smoking cigarettes, compared to 19 in 2015. “It’s still a high number, even though it’s considerably lower than in other countries,” she added.

The coordinator also said that the government’s decision to lower cigarette taxes influenced the consumption among the low-income and younger portion of the population. “Here in Brazil we see what Central Bank surveys already showed us—that this is one of the most effective measures to reduce smoking, especially among young people, in preventing them from starting smoking, and among people with lower income and less education. The convention adds to what had been done in Brazil since the 90,” she remarked.

Joint efforts

The National Commission for the implementation of the Convention, Cavalcante reported, has members from several of the government’s 18 sectors, including the Attorney-General’s Office, which filed a lawsuit asking for compensation from tobacco makers for public spending in the treatment of tobacco-related diseases. The case arose from Article 19 of the convention, on accountability. Brazil’s Federal Revenue Secretariat also has a say in the convention when it comes to taxation.

She also noted that Brazil too ratified the protocol linked to Article 15 of the treaty, on the elimination of the illegal cigarette market.

“This protocol has been subscribed to by over 50 countries, and international cooperation is its most important axis, because behind illegal trade today is organized crime, corruption, and money laundering. So relevant agencies must work jointly on the matter, which becomes both a public security and a public health issue. Smuggled cigarettes are a public health issue because it makes it easier for children and adolescents to start smoking, because it’s much cheaper.”

As per figures from the Assessment Department for Technology on Health and Health Economy, 428 people die in Brazil as a result of tobacco smoking. Approximately 12.6 percent of all deaths taking place in the country can be attributed to smoking. Deaths for heart disease account for most of them: 34.99 thousand. Figures cover the year of 2015 and people aged 35 and above.


The survey also found that medical costs and the loss of productivity associated with tobacco smoking added up to R$56.9 billion, R$39.4 billion of which in direct medical costs—the equivalent of eight percent of all health care spending—and R$17.5 billion in indirect costs, due to early death and invalidity.

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