Economic loss caused by tobacco to global economy is over US$ 1.4 trillion every year

[published in Asian Tribune]
Professor (Dr) Surya Kant, Head of the Respiratory Medicine Department, King George's Medical University delivering his keynote address at the ongoing Sustainable Development e-Talks (#SDGtalks) co-hosted by Indian Institute of Management Indore and CNS, said that scientific evidence from countries hard-hit by corona virus disease (COVID-19) pandemic shows that those with previously existing conditions like heart diseases, high blood pressure, cancers, kidney diseases, diabetes, tuberculosis among others, are at an alarming risk of serious COVID-19 outcomes, including death. "Tobacco is the entirely-preventable common risk factor of these conditions that increase the deadly risk of serious outcomes of COVID-19." Professor Kant said.

Professor Kant who has been the National President of Indian Chest Society, National College of Chest Physicians and Indian College of Allergy, Asthma and Applied Immunology, further explained; " Sri Lanka as of 23 May 2020, had 1068 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 9 deaths. Ministry of Health of Sri Lanka warned in March this year, that 'older adults (above 50 years of age) with serious medical conditions e.g. heart disease, diabetes, lung disease are at higher risk to become very sick from the COVID-19 infections.' Tobacco is a common major risk factor of all these conditions listed by the Ministry of Health Sri Lanka.

The recent release of a report by the National Institute of Health in Italy stated that more than 99% of those who have died from COVID-19 had pre-existing medical conditions, including high blood pressure, heart disease, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, and diabetes. Tobacco (along with alcohol) is a major common risk factor for all these listed conditions.

According to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India, 86% of deaths due to COVID-19 have exhibited co morbidity related to diabetes, chronic kidney issues, hypertension and heart related problems. Tobacco is again a common and major risk factor here (along with alcohol).

Tobacco spitting in public places could enhance the spread of the COVID-19. According to Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), “Chewing smokeless tobacco products (Gutkha, ‘Paan masala’ with tobacco, ‘Paan’ and other chewing tobacco products) and areca nut (supari) increase the production of saliva followed by a very strong urge to spit. The ICMR has urged to refrain from consuming smokeless tobacco products and spitting in public places. State Government of Uttar Pradesh in India had banned the sale of ‘paan masala’, in view of the alarming COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.

Prof Surya Kant said that TB is the world's biggest killer among infectious diseases, claiming more than 4000 lives each day. People who have TB are usually more vulnerable to other infections, including the novel corona virus, due to pre-existing lung damage. They are at a higher risk of developing complications from COVID-19.

Right to breathe in clean air must be ensured for every person, stressed Prof Surya Kant. A blessing in disguise in this pandemic is that people are realizing the benefits of reduced consumption patterns which are manifesting with cleaner air quality for example. Even small increases in fine particulate matter, known as PM2.5, have had an outsized effect in the USA. BBC reported that an increase of just 1 microgram per cubic meter corresponded to a 15% increase in COVID-19 deaths, according to the researchers of Harvard University.

Prof Surya Kant added that air pollution also aggravates range of other lung diseases including asthma and dangerously increases the risk of lung cancer for instance. 2.1 million people were diagnosed with lung cancer in a year and 1.8 million deaths.

Economic loss caused by tobacco to global economy is over US$ 1.4 trillion every year. Tobacco is the single largest man made pollutant of our oceans too with other environmental damages. Apart from profits for the industry, tobacco has no benefit, but results in huge loss and irreparable damage to human life and our planet.

Shobha Shukla, Citizen News Services founding head said in #SDGtalks that by one decision of ending tobacco, we can eventually prevent the mountainous burden of tobacco-caused diseases, and avert untimely deaths.

If governments have to deliver on sustainable development goals (SDGs) where no-one-is-left-behind then one of the easiest political corrective decision in that direction is to end tobacco. It will also help with containment measures for COVID-19 and have far reaching outcomes for public health as well.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) tobacco kills up to half of its users. With over 8.2 million deaths due to tobacco use every year, out of which 1.2 million deaths are because of passive smoking, it is high time governments put people over the industry profits.

Dr Mayank Somani, Chief Consultant, Critical Care, Emergency Medicine and Internal Medicine at the Apollo Medics Super-Specialty Hospitals, gave three take-home messages in lead up to World No Tobacco Day this year: "Quit tobacco, quit tobacco and quit tobacco.

" Those who use tobacco need to quit, and the rest need to ensure they stay away from it. "Passive smoking is as dangerous as smoking" reiterated Dr Ajaya Kumar, Senior Consultant, Internal Medicine, Critical Care and Emergency Medicine, Apollo medics Super-Specialty Hospitals.