Tobacco Control

Our goal
To reduce tobacco-related death and disease in low- and middle-income countries by preventing the initiation of new smokers, decreasing overall tobacco use, and reducing exposure to secondhand smoke.
Tobacco industry marketing has contributed to increased smoking rates among women and youth in low- and middle-income countries.
Tobacco industry marketing has contributed to increased smoking rates among women and youth in low- and middle-income countries.

At a glance

  • Tobacco use is the world’s leading cause of preventable death, with more than 8 million people dying of tobacco-related diseases each year.
  • Tobacco use has accelerated in low- and middle-income countries, where the tobacco industry is increasing its aggressive marketing, often directed at women and children.
  • We support the World Health Organization (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), an international treaty that compels its 182 party countries to meet minimum tobacco control provisions.
  • We support partners that are working to address the tobacco epidemic in more than 25 countries in Africa and Asia.
Our strategy

Our strategy

Many signatories of the FCTC are low- and middle-income countries, where tobacco control has often been a lower priority than other health challenges. Policymakers frequently lack data on tobacco-related issues and trends, tobacco industry interference remains high, and the capacity of governments to implement control measures is uneven.

The foundation’s Tobacco Control program works to address these challenges by supporting a well-coordinated network of strategic partners that are based primarily in Africa, China, and Southeast Asia. Since 2008, we have committed US$376 million to partners that lead national campaigns, conduct domestic research, and provide technical assistance to governments looking to address the tobacco epidemic in more than 30 countries. Bloomberg Philanthropies is a key partner in this work; we closely coordinate with them on tobacco control efforts in Asia and support highly complementary efforts in other geographies.

While clinical smoking cessation is not a focus of our investments, we acknowledge its critical role in limiting overall tobacco-related death and disease and we applaud the efforts of other organizations in this area. We also recognize the importance of other needs in tobacco control, such as considering alternative livelihoods for tobacco farmers and addressing cross-border smuggling. We monitor these issues closely and take them into account when we make strategic decisions about how to allocate our funds to reduce tobacco use.

We also recognize the increasing use and marketing of novel tobacco products, including e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products, and are tracking the policy implications and potential impact in the countries where we work.

Bill Gates and Michael Bloomberg have called on government and business leaders to make the fight against tobacco use a higher priority.
Bill Gates and Michael Bloomberg have called on government and business leaders to make the fight against tobacco use a higher priority.
Areas of focus

Areas of focus

Tobacco control policy interventions save lives. Among them, tobacco taxation offers a particularly crucial advantage in addition to reducing tobacco use—it can provide much-needed domestic revenue to help fund a range of public health and development efforts. Working with strategic partners in Africa, China, and Southeast Asia, we support education and advocacy at the country level for implementation of FCTC provisions, particularly tobacco taxes that raise the price of cigarettes for the consumer, comprehensive bans on tobacco advertising, graphic health warning labels and plain cigarette packaging, and indoor smoking bans. We support local, regional, and global partners who can coordinate with and build the capacity of advocates and policymakers to implement these measures. We also invest in building national data platforms that support policymakers in advancing national tobacco control measures.

When policy change approaches are combined with targeted and creative social marketing to shift public perceptions and knowledge related to tobacco use, the two efforts can be mutually reinforcing and lead to significant and lasting change. We support partners in Africa who are leading an innovative social marketing effort to prevent tobacco use by teenage girls. The multimedia platform aims to build girls’ confidence and resilience while highlighting the decision not to smoke as an ambitious, aspirational choice.

Why focus on tobacco control?

Why focus on tobacco control?

Worldwide, more than 1 billion people use tobacco products—the only consumer products that, when used as directed, will kill half of all users. Tobacco use is the world’s leading cause of preventable death, with more than 8 million people dying of tobacco-related diseases each year, including more than 1.2 million nonsmokers who are exposed to secondhand smoke.

In recent years, tobacco use has stagnated in higher-income countries while accelerating in low- and middle-income countries, which now account for 80 percent of tobacco users worldwide. Tobacco industry revenues continue to climb, and aggressive marketing of tobacco products in the developing world is increasing, often directed at women and children. In countries that grow tobacco and produce tobacco products, the tobacco industry has enormous influence on public policy and wages relentless and well-funded advertising, promotion, and sponsorship campaigns.

In 2003, the World Health Assembly adopted the FCTC, the world’s first and only global public health treaty. The FCTC compels its 182 party countries—many of them low- and middle-income—to meet minimum standards in tobacco control measures. The FCTC provisions have proven cost-effective and successful in reducing tobacco use.

We see promising opportunities for progress in tobacco control in the following regions:

  • Africa. The tobacco epidemic in Africa is at a relatively early stage, and momentum for tobacco control is strong, so now is a critical time to invest in campaigns, research, and implementation support for policies that can prevent a large-scale epidemic. As incomes rise for a growing African population, tobacco use could double in the coming years if strong tobacco control measures are not implemented. Since 2008, 19 sub-Saharan African countries have instituted tobacco tax policies and 23 have passed other essential FCTC policies.

  • Asia. In Southeast Asia, where tobacco consumption is relatively high, there is room to improve tobacco regulation and make a significant health impact as economic growth accelerates. Meanwhile, China remains the world’s largest producer and consumer of tobacco, with one in three cigarettes in the world smoked in that country. While these geographies have seen important advancements in their tobacco control policies in recent years, including graphic warning labels in the six Southeast Asian countries where we focus our work (Cambodia, the Philippines, Myanmar, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Lao PDR), opportunities exist to dramatically raise tobacco taxes. This would capture billions of dollars in revenue while also lowering smoking rates—especially among youth and low-income populations.
Strategy leadership

Strategy leadership

Our partners

Our partners

We collaborate with grantees and other partners who join us in taking risks, pushing for new solutions, and harnessing the transformative power of science and technology. The list below includes direct grantees through which we support a broad network of national civil society organizations, universities, and communications, marketing, and technical experts based in the countries where we work.
African Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF)

ACBF works to build the institutional capacity of civil society organizations, support their long-term sustainability, and enable them to focus on tobacco control policy.

Bloomberg Philanthropies

We invest in the Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use, which works in low- and middle-income countries around the world to promote proven tobacco control policies.

Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids

The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids supports the national implementation of proven policies to reduce tobacco use in Africa and helps low- and middle-income countries protect and defend their tobacco control laws against litigation.

Development Gateway

Development Gateway works with sub-Saharan African governments to collect, analyze, and use quality country-specific tobacco-related data.

The Dialogue Group

The Dialogue Group leads social marketing campaigns in Botswana and Zambia aimed at making tobacco use less appealing to teens.

Good Business

Good Business works with marketing agencies in Ghana, Kenya, and Cote D’Ivoire to implement social marketing campaigns aimed at making tobacco use less appealing to teens.

Management Sciences for Health (MSH)

MSH is a nonprofit organization that administers the Tobacco Policy Action Fund for Africa, which provides funding and technical assistance to sub-Saharan African governments seeking support in implementing FCTC-compliant tobacco control policies.

Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA)

SEATCA works to reduce tobacco use and contribute to the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in six low- and middle-income members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) by strengthening implementation of the FCTC.

Tax Justice Network Africa (TJNA)

TJNA supports civil society organizations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, and Zambia in researching and advocating for effective tobacco tax policies that help prevent and reduce tobacco use.

World Health Organization

WHO provides technical assistance to governments in Africa to advance and implement effective tobacco control measures, and it helps African and Southeast Asian nations develop and build capacity to effectively regulate novel tobacco products.