You may have seen today’s headlines repeating a World Health Organisation warning that, by 2030, eight million people a year around the world – that’s about one in every 1000 of us – ‘would be killed’ by smoking.

They mean, of course, ‘would, statistically, have had longer lives if they hadn’t smoked’, but let’s not quibble. Because this is actually terrific news: as tireless myth-buster Christopher Snowdon has just tweeted, 20 years ago, the WHO was predicting the kill rate would be 20 per cent higher in a timespan that was five years shorter. In other words, in 1997, they were predicting that smoking would account for 10 million ‘deaths’ (or shortened lives) per year by 2025.

At this rate, it will project six million by 2040 (today’s alleged level, funnily enough, which is somehow nearly double what was claimed in 1997); and five million by 2050. And since world-population is currently rising by about a billion every decade, the proportionate decline will be even greater.

The only trouble is, you can’t believe a word the WHO says about smoking, and much else besides. (That’s why Donald Trump is said to be eyeing the USA’s contributions to the organisation, as he is their share of the Nato bill.) The press are banned from their conferences on tobacco – which are loaded with campaigning rather than dispassionate experts. They are pushing for plain packaging to be adopted worldwide without any evidence that it works – and some to the contrary. And their figures are as imaginative as their expenses accounts.

In 1997, for example, they said that 70 per cent of smokers came from developing countries; now they say 80 per cent. But then they make wild claims about productivity lost to illness while ignoring the surplus in the tax-vs-treatment account sheet that pertains in Western economies.

And to be frank, they fiddle the science. Twenty years ago, for example, the WHO’s findings on passive smoking were widely questioned; it was also noted that 40 per cent of the smokers that the organisation claimed had died ‘from smoking’ had actually exceeded average life-expectancy for their gender.

In the circs, instead of concluding that there should be even higher taxation of tobacco – which is a gift to smugglers and counterfeiters – the organisation should just pipe down?

by Tim Willis