Tobacco: Hiding behind a smoke-screen

One of the biggest health threats that the world has ever faced comes not from deadly bacterial and viral diseases or parasitic infections, but from something that hides behind a smoke-screen — the deadly tobacco.

Since it became prevalent in the 1950s, smoking has single-handedly killed more people than the combined death toll from the two World Wars and the great Black Plague. An estimated 100 million lost their lives in the two World Wars, and reportedly another 150 million were decimated across Eurasia by the spread of plaque in the mid- to late-14th century.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) smoking kills an estimated 8.2 million people each year. Even going by a conservative figure of five million deaths a year produces a death toll of 350 million deaths when extrapolated over the last 70 years that smoking has been prevalent.

More than 7 million of the annual deaths from smoking are the result of direct tobacco usage, another 1.2 million deaths are the result of non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke. Tobacco is projected to kill over half of the 1.1 billion smokers living around the world ahead of their lifespan. With around 80 percent of smokers living in low- and middle-income countries, the burden of tobacco-related illness and death will be heaviest on countries that are least able to tackle the epidemic.

After being hounded out of much of the developed world, the tobacco industry is now aiming to spread its usage in poor developing countries. Using every tactics that they perfected over the span of a century in the developed world, the tobacco industry is now spreading its death and destruction in developing countries. The lack of stringent rules on marketing and sales of tobacco products gives the industry a free-hand to ply their nefarious trade in poor countries.

In many developing countries, Big Tobacco uses its money power to buy political patronage that allows them to thwart anti-smoking campaigns and to obfuscate the strong evidence which points to the harms of tobacco on lung health and its implications directly for smokers and indirectly through second-hand smoke on non-smokers.

Every year the World Health Organization and global partners celebrate World No Tobacco Day (WNTD) on 31 May. The event is used to raise awareness on the harmful and deadly effects of tobacco use and second-hand smoke exposure, and to discourage the use of tobacco in any form.

The theme for this year’s WNTD, ‘Tobacco and Lung Health’ aims to focus on the negative impact that tobacco has on people’s lung health, from cancer to chronic respiratory disease, and the fundamental role lungs play for the health and well-being of all people.

The campaign also serves as a call to action, advocating for effective policies to reduce tobacco consumption and engaging stakeholders across multiple sectors in the fight for tobacco control.

Lung cancer is one of deadly results of smoking tobacco — over two-thirds of all lung cancer deaths globally have been attributed to smoking tobacco. Second-hand smoke exposure at home or in the workplace also increases risk of lung cancer.

Tobacco smoking is also the leading cause of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a condition where the build-up of pus-filled mucus in the lungs results in a painful cough and agonizing breathing difficulties.

Across their life-course, infants exposed in-utero to tobacco smoke toxins, through maternal smoking or maternal exposure to second-hand smoke, frequently experience reduced lung growth and function.

Globally, an estimated 60, 000 children die before the age of 5 of lower respiratory infections caused by second-hand smoke. Those who live on into adulthood continue to suffer the health consequences of second-hand smoke exposure.

Another direct risk of smoking is tuberculosis (TB) which damages the lungs and reduces lung function. People who smoke are twice as likely to fall ill with TB. Active TB, compounded by the damaging lung health effects of tobacco smoking, substantially increases risk of disability and death from respiratory failure.

Tobacco smoke is also implicated in the poor quality of indoor air. Tobacco smoke contains over 7 000 chemicals, 69 of which are known to cause cancer. Though smoke may be invisible and odorless, it can linger in the air for up to five hours, putting those exposed at risk of lung cancer, chronic respiratory diseases, and reduced lung function.

The good news is that quitting smoking can reduce the risk of lung cancer: after 10 years of quitting smoking, risk of lung cancer falls to about half that of a smoker.

 

The World No Tobacco Day 2019 campaign serves as an opportunity to engage stakeholders across sectors and empower countries around the world, especially developing nations, to fight the tobacco industry by strengthening the implementation of proven tobacco control measures contained in the WHO Framework Convention for Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC).

As part of WNTD and in relation to the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,  Kuwait continues to pursue health and environment policies to prevent the hazards of tobacco consumption. The country has also implemented various awareness programs to highlight the risks associated with tobacco and the need to reduce its consumption.

Director of Information and Public Relations Department of Kuwait Environment Public Authority (EPA) Sheikha Al-Ibrahim said the theme of this year WNTD is an occasion to remind everybody of the adverse health and environment impacts of tobacco inhalation,  as well as the economic hazards to people’s livelihood.

Pointing out that Article 56 of Act 42/2014 of Kuwait’s law on environment protection bans smoking in public transports and in closed areas except in designated places indoors, she said, “The EPA has embarked on an ambitious awareness plan, involving audiovisuals in mass media and on social media, to educate the public on the provisions of the law and the importance of curbing air pollution and combating smoking.”

She added, “Collaborating with other state institutions and the private sector we were able to implement the law and impose fines on violators. Since the issuance of the law in 2014, nearly 3,600 individuals and institutions, including government bodies and shopping malls, have been fined for breaching the law.”

Under the law, the value of fine, which ranges from KD50 to KD100, should be paid by the violator within a week of the citation or they could face interrogation by the public prosecution. She  added that the EPA will continue to organize awareness programs on the risks of smoking in parallel with the campaigns against law violators.