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What's the Problem?
Smoking is the leading cause of preventable deaths in the world. Tobacco use causes more than 5 million deaths per year worldwide. Current trends show that tobacco use will cause more than 8 million deaths annually by 2030. Although smoking rates are decreasing in developed nations such as the United States and United Kingdom, the number of smokers is slowly increasing in the developing world by approximately 3.4 percent each year1.
Smoking harms almost every organ of the body. Globally, smoking related-diseases kills 1 in 10 adults. Smoking related diseases include cancer, heart disease, and lung diseases such as emphysema, bronchitis, and chronic airway obstruction. For every person who dies from a smoking-related disease, 20 more people suffer with at least one serious illness from smoking. Cigarette smoking increases the length of time that people live with a disability by about 2 years. On average, smokers die 13 to 14 years earlier than nonsmokers.
As smoking becomes less acceptable and profitable in the developed world, tobacco companies are expanding into countries with fewer restrictions and public health warnings. Current statistics show that 84 percent of smokers live in developing countries. According to the Gates Foundation, the poorest households in Bangladesh spend almost 10 times as much on tobacco as they do on education2.
The global smoking problem also affects children. Between 80,000 and 100,000 children worldwide start smoking every day—roughly half of whom live in Asia. Fifty percent of children who begin smoking in adolescent years continue to smoke for an average of 15 to 20 years. It is predicted that about a quarter of the youth in the Western Pacific Region will die from smoking related-diseases. Studies show that tobacco advertising heavily influences these teenagers. Tobacco promotions are glamorous in ads and films and are suspected to target young people3.
In the U.S. alone, a country with only 5 percent of the world's smokers, the tobacco industry spends nearly $36 million on advertising and promotions per day. Every year since 1987 spending on advertising and promotions has increased, reaching $250.8 million in 20054.
Tobacco companies produce approximately 5.6 trillion cigarettes each year. That is equal to nearly 900 cigarettes for every man, woman and child in the world3.
Who's at Risk?
Anyone who smokes is at risk for smoking-related diseases. However, you do not need to be a smoker to be at risk. Secondhand smoke causes disease and premature death in nonsmokers, including children. Secondhand smoke is the combination of smoke that comes from the burning end of a cigarette and the smoke exhaled by the smoker. People are vulnerable to secondhand smoke in homes, cars and public places such as bars and restaurants. At least 250 of the 4,000 plus chemicals identified in secondhand tobacco smoke are known to be harmful and 50 are known to cause cancer. The negative health effects of exposure to secondhand smoke include lung cancer, nasal sinus cancer, respiratory tract infections and heart disease. With immediate harmful effects on an individual's heart and blood vessels, secondhand smoke increases the risk of heart disease by approximately 25 to 30 percent. Exposing children to secondhand smoke increases their risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), ear infections, colds, pneumonia, bronchitis and severe asthma; it also slows the growth of a child's lungs5.
People who live in countries with unchecked advertising markets, often the case in developing countries, are at higher risk for exposure to tobacco promotion ads6. A direct correlation between tobacco advertising and increased consumption of tobacco products has been drawn in several studies7. For this reason, tobacco companies spend billions of dollars each year in unchecked markets where bans on tobacco advertising are less likely to get in the way of acquiring new customers.
Can Smoking-Related Diseases Be Prevented?
Yes. Non-smokers have very low chance of acquiring smoking related illnesses, unless they are exposed to secondhand smoke. In addition, quitting smoking has immediate as well as long-term benefits including reducing risks for diseases caused by smoking.
The Bottom Line
Smoking is a risk factor for six of the eight leading causes of deaths worldwide. Millions of people are dying every year as a result of the tobacco epidemic. Tobacco companies continue to promote their products in nations where people are not as well educated on the harmful effects of smoking.
- Li Kuan-ying, a third year masters candidate in mechanical engineering at National Chung Hsing University, recently decided to quit smoking. With 2 other friends on the same mission to quit smoking, he paid a visit to the Department of Health's Taichung Hospital to enroll in a smoking cessation treatment. Li's smoking habit was the result of peer pressure by some of Li's friends when he was younger. At the peak of his addiction, Li smoked three packs a day. If Li was upset or down he would smoke more, relying on cigarettes to make him feel better. However, due to the recent price rise for cigarettes, complaints by friends about the smell and wanting to set a good example for any children he may have in the future, Li has cut down to 2 to 4 cigarettes a day and is on his way to kicking his addiction. Now on his way to complete cessation, Li says he can literally breathe much easier8.
- From the time he was 17, Mr Phua Chuan Chin was hardly seen without a cigarette. He took his first drag from a pack of Gold Leaf cigarettes bought with his first paycheck. Several puffs later, he was hooked, and he stayed addicted for 30 years. Now, at 57—four attempts to quit and one heart attack later—Mr Phua has managed to stay smoke-free for 10 years. A husband and father, Mr. Phua cited love for his family as an important motivation not to pick up a cigarette. Mr Phua is now a certified fitness instructor and smoking cessation counselor, sharing his experiences with underage smokers under the Health Promotion Board-Singapore Heart Foundation collaboration. His aim: Debunk the myth of not expecting to get hooked9.
- 1 Smoking Statistics. (2002, May 28). World Health Organization. On July 28, 2009, retrieved from http://www.wpro.who.int/media_centre/fact_sheets/fs_20020528.htm
- 2 Michael Bloomberg and Bill Gates Join to Combat Global Tobacco Epidemic. (2008, July 23). Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. On July 28, 2009, retrieved from http://www.gatesfoundation.org/press-releases/Pages/bloomberg-gates-tobacco-initiative-080723.aspx
- 3 10 Facts on the Tobacco Epidemic and Global Tobacco Control. (2009). The World Health Organization. On July 28, 2009, retrieved from http://www.who.int/features/factfiles/tobacco_epidemic/en/index.html
- 4 Facts. (n.d.). Truth. On July 28, 2009, retrieved from http://www.thetruth.com/facts/
- 5 Second Hand Smoke. (n.d.). National Cancer Institute. On July 28, 2009, retrieved from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/secondhandsmoke.html
- 6 Shah, A. (2008, July 2). Global Issues. On October 13, 2009, retrieved from http://www.globalissues.org/article/533/tobacco#ExpandingThirdWorldMarkets
- 7 Tobacco Advertising and Promotion. (n.d.) National Center for Tobacco Free Kids. On October 13, 2009, retrieved from www.tobaccofreekids.org
- 8 Graduate Students Join to Kick Smoking Habit. (2009, June 4). In The China Post
- 9 Tan, J. & Tan, A. (2009, May 30). Helping others to give up smoking; Quitting is not easy, but two ex-smokers show it can be done. In The Straits Times (Singapore)
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