smokingNearly 6 million people die every year via cancer, heart disease, lung disease and other chronic, long-term health conditions associated with smoking.  Over the course of the 21st century, tobacco use could kill up to a billion people unless urgent action is taken.

“Tobacco use is one of the leading preventable causes of death. The global tobacco epidemic kills nearly 6 million people each year, of which more than 600,000 are people exposed to second-hand smoke. Unless we act, it will kill up to 8 million people by 2030, of which more than 80 per cent will live in low- and middle-income countries,” says the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Upper middle to high-income countries are seeing drops in tobacco consumption but lower-income countries are increasing out of control.  These countries are at greatest risk due to lack of education, poor legislative oversight and greed by tobacco companies.

31 May marks World No Tobacco Day. The 2013 theme is “ban tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship”. Only 6 per cent of the world’s population were protected from exposure to the tobacco industry’s advertising, promotion and sponsorship according to the WHO report on the global tobacco epidemic.

To help reduce tobacco use, the WHO highlights the importance of counteracting “the deceptive and misleading nature of tobacco marketing campaigns”. Governments and civil society must work together to limit the unavoidable exposure of youth to dangerous tobacco marketing.

Banning of tobacco advertising must include the media such as newspapers, magazines, radio and TV.  It must encompass public places that highlight poster and billboard marketing. A comprehensive ban must also include the regulation of ‘brand stretching’. Brand stretching is the use of brand names and logos to indirectly advertise products.

World No Tobacco Day 2013 highlights the failure of the tobacco industry to effectively self-regulate and the ineffective results of partial bans in place. “The tobacco industry uses sponsorship and especially corporate social responsibility tactics to trick public opinion into believing in their respectability and good intentions while they maneuver to hijack the political and legislative process,” says the WHO.

The true impact of tobacco

Tobacco use is a global epidemic that brings disability, disease, lost productivity and death to entire countries and regions throughout the world.  Tobacco continues to be the leading cause of preventable death and currently kills 1 in 10 adults worldwide. It’s documented that tobacco kills up to half of its users.

“The tobacco epidemic is entirely man-made, and it can be turned around through the concerted efforts of governments and civil society,” says Dr Margaret Chan, Director General WHO.

Expensive healthcare costs are just the start to this global killer. It also causes hundreds of billions of dollars of economic losses via diminished productivity, missed workdays, poor morale and the physical, mental and emotional strain that tobacco places on one’s family.

Smoking during pregnancy is far too prevalent and can cause significant harm to the mother and child. Hazardous chemicals such as nicotine, carbon monoxide and a variety of other poisons inhaled during smoking go directly to the baby.

There’s a direct relationship between the amount of cigarettes smoked per day and the chance of severe complications. Smoking during pregnancy has been found to affect the amount of oxygen to organ and brain tissue of the child and mother.  Tobacco is a chemical stress that is known to elevate the mother’s heart rate and blood pressure.  These two factors are significant risk factors for pre-eclampsia, miscarriage and stillbirth.

Tobacco causes heart disease, cancer and diabetes

Tobacco use is one of the most important risk factors in the development of cardiovascular disease.  Statistics show that smoking increases the risk of stroke, coronary heart disease and impotence by 100 per cent and increases the risk of death from undiagnosed coronary heart disease by 300 per cent.

Nicotine, the addictive component in tobacco can accelerates the heart rate and raises blood pressure.  It also damages the lining of the blood vessels, increases fatty deposits in the arteries, increases clotting, raises bad cholesterol, reduces good cholesterol and promotes coronary artery spasm according to the World Heart Federation.

Tobacco use is the single greatest avoidable risk factor for cancer mortality worldwide, causing an estimated 22 per cent of cancer deaths per year according to the WHO.

Tobacco smoking causes many types of cancer, including cancers of the lung, oesophagus, larynx, mouth, throat, kidney, bladder, pancreas, stomach and cervix. About 70 per cent of the lung cancer burden can be attributed to smoking alone. Second-hand smoke has been proven to cause lung cancer in non-smoking adults as well. Smoking is also a leading cause of allergies, asthma and other respiratory related conditions.

Cigarette smoke contains over 4,000 chemicals, including 43 known cancer-causing compounds and 400 other toxins. The toxins include but are not limited to nicotine, tar, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, ammonia, hydrogen cyanide, arsenic and DDT.

Diabetics that smoke have twice the risk of premature death. The risk of complications associated with tobacco use and diabetes in combination are nearly 14 times higher than the risk of either smoking or diabetes alone according to the International Diabetes Federation (IDF).

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found the risk of Type 2 diabetes rose by 61 per cent in people who smoked 20 cigarettes per day. A similar study found smokers had a 44 per cent elevated risk of Type 2 diabetes when compared to non-smokers. Quitting smoking can reduce the progression of diabetes by 30 per cent.

Benefits of quitting smoking

There are immediate and long-term health benefits of quitting smoking according to the WHO. Within 20 minutes one’s heart rate and blood pressure drops. The carbon monoxide level in one’s blood stream drops to normal within 12 hours.  Lung function improves and circulation increases within weeks of quitting.

Quitting smoking for a year reduces the risk of coronary heart disease by 50 per cent in comparison to a smoker. One’s risk of stroke is reduced to that of a non-smoker 5 to 15 years after quitting.

The risk of lung cancer falls to about half that of a smoker after 10 years. Cancers of the mouth, throat, oesophagus, bladder, cervix, and pancreas decreases as well. Quitting for 15 years reduces the risk of coronary heart disease to that of a non-smoker.

Studies show that few people know and understand the specific health risks of tobacco use. Most smokers who are aware of the dangers of tobacco want to quit.

“A comprehensive ban on all tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship could decrease tobacco consumption by an average of about 7 per cent,” according to the WHO.

The ultimate goal of World No Tobacco Day 2013 is to contribute to protect present and future generations not only from these devastating health consequences, but also against the social, environmental and economic scourges of tobacco use.

Dr Cory Couillard is an international healthcare speaker and columnist for numerous newspapers, magazines, websites and publications throughout the world. He works in collaboration with the World Health Organization’s goals of disease prevention and global healthcare education. Views do not necessarily reflect endorsement.

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