Tobacco threatens the health of everyone

Francis Okoye, CNS Correspondent, Nigeria
Tobacco threatens the health of everyone on planet earth. ‘Tobacco kills nearly half of its users. 1/3 of the world is addicted to it, 1/3 of the world is poor, and 1/3 of the world suffers from TB. Tobacco kills 7 million people each year, 1 million of them being victims of second hand smoke. Tobacco use brings suffering, disease and death in its wake. It impoverishes families and national economics. 80% of premature death from tobacco are from poor, and middle income countries.’

These facts were shared by Prof. Rama Kant, WHO Director General Awardee for tobacco control and former Head of Department of Surgery, King George Medical University, India, in a webinar titled “Tobacco end game is imperative for sustainable development” organized by Citizen News Service (CNS). Prof Kant cautioned that taking tobacco in any form is harmful, be it smoking cigarettes, or chewing tobacco, or using hookah/waterpipe/sheesha, or vaping e-cigarettes. Tobacco is a major risk factor for non communicable diseases like heart disease and stroke; cancer (especially oral and lung cancer); chronic respiratory disease- 80% COPD deaths are due to smoking; and diabetes—it doubles its risk and leads to insulin secretion and insulin resistance.

Even non smokers are at peril due to exposure to second hand smoke—smoke that fills restaurants, offices or other enclosed spaces when people burn tobacco products such as cigarettes, bidis and water-pipes. Dr Kant warned that second-hand smoke can cause cardiovascular & respiratory diseases, coronary heart disease, and lung cancer in adults and sudden death in infants. In pregnant women it can result in abortions, and low birth weight and congenital deformities in neonates. Almost 50% of children regularly breathe air polluted by tobacco smoke in public places. In 2004, children accounted for 28% of the deaths attributable to second-hand smoke.

The expert mentioned several ways of tobacco cessation, which include use of religious/faith, pharmacotherapy, family/psychological counselling. and use of a combination of nicotine replacement therapy.

Michelle Syonne Reyes Palmones, Technical Advisor (Philippines), International Union Against TB and Lung Disease (The Union), said that the MPOWER strategy was devised to assist effective country level interventions to reduce demand for tobacco.  She talked about Philippine’s Republic Act 10351, or the Sin Tax law, which helped to finance universal health care programme of the country, increasing the number of Phil Health beneficiaries from 20.43 million in 2012 to 52.92 million in 2015. Also introduced was the DOH Red Orchids Award for 100% tobacco free places. In November 2016, pictorial warnings with two messages were introduced on both sides of tobacco/cigarette packs, instead of one. The combined effect of all these tobacco control methods has resulted in a significant decline in tobacco us in Philippines, shared Michelle.

Another expert, Cloe Franko, Senior International Organizer, Challenge Big Tobacco, Corporate Accountability International, and Network for Accountability of Tobacco Transnationals leadership, dwelt upon tobacco industry interference (TII) being the greatest impediment in the implementation of tobacco control policies across the world. TII impedes good governance, creates a huge economic burden on governments, costs millions of lives, and stalls implementation of the FCTC (Framework Convention on Tobacco Control). However Article 19 of the FCTC empowers countries to hold the tobacco industry liable, whether criminally or civilly, and to recoup healthcare costs, shifting the burden back on the industry. So proper implementation of Article 19 will go a long way in curbing the abuses of the tobacco industry, and also give an opportunity to advance the sustainable development goals (SDGs).

The webinar was dedicated to two anti tobacco fighters who passed away recently—Ms Amteshwar Kaur, Senior Lawyer, tobacco control advocate and founder of Generation Saviour Association (which strives for a Tobacco free Punjab), and Yul Francisco Dorado, former Latin American Director of Corporate Accountability International and human rights leader from Colombia.

Tobacco related diseases and deaths are preventable, and yet tobacco is crippling economies and health systems. All of us need to contribute our might to completely weed out this prickly thorn, that indeed is a threat to development, from our midst.

Francis Okoye, Citizen News Service - CNS
June 6, 2017