Tobacco use is a major cause of unequal life expectancy; people who smoke are more at risk of ill health throughout their lives and death at a younger age. Tobacco control is a model for health promotion and for prevention of disease, and serves as a tool to reduce health inequities. Through the decades, tobacco control discovered and understood the importance of addressing social environment, cultural mores, political responses and limits on industry behaviours through a mixture of advocacy, political action, public information and programmes for individuals and communities thus leading to effective population-wide tobacco control measures.

However, tobacco control measures, if social or economic disadvantages are not specifically taken into consideration, can actually widen the equity gap. This is particularly pertinent in low and middle income countries, which already face ill health and premature death due to social upheaval, unhealthy air, water and housing, malnutrition, infectious diseases and chronic degenerative diseases.