Health and environmental hazards of smoking


Tobacco is noxious in any form, whether smoked or unsmoked. Tobacco smoke contains more than 7000 chemicals. There are 1.3 billion tobacco users worldwide. That number might be even bigger if tobacco did not destroy half of its users. Every 4 seconds, tobacco is responsible for another untimely death. 90% of adult smokers start smoking before age 18. Smoking is the number one cause of lung cancer in the world. It’s responsible for two-thirds of lung cancer deaths. The average smoker dies 10 years earlier than non-smoker. Tobacco causes 8 million deaths annually, 3 million of which are from cancer. Secondhand smoke kills over 1 million people per annum, including 65000 children. The tobacco epidemic is one of the biggest public health challenges the world has ever faced. Tobacco use among youth increases the risk of lung malfunctioning, impairs lung growth, and early inception of chronic respiratory diseases. Childhood smoking doubles the risk of premature death. There are 1.3 billion smokers globally, with 80% living in LMICs. Smoking pervasiveness among males and females in 2020 was 30.5% (231 million people) and 1.3% (10 million people), correspondingly and now in 2022 the number is much higher than that.

In Pakistan, it is anticipated that the pervasiveness of tobacco smoking is 36% for males and 9% for females. Among young adults especially the university students in Pakistan, the prevalence of smoking is 15% with the preponderance being male smokers. Roughly 1,200 children start smoking daily. In addition, many in the South-East Asian region use smokeless tobacco, the main cause for the high rate of head and neck cancers in the region. Tobacco not only affects the health of people, but also costs countries money in terms of healthcare costs and lost productivity. It has been manifested that the impact of health outlay on national economies due to tobacco related illnesses is much higher than the income revenue from the sales of tobacco products. Smoking among cancer survivors remains a problem almost 10% of cancer survivors smoking for 9 years after their identification. Of the lung cancer cases 80–85% is accredited to tobacco smoking. Tobacco use accounts annually for 11% of all new cases and 18% of all cancer deaths worldwide. Across the globe around 3.5 million hectares of land are ruined to cultivate tobacco annually. Tobacco farming also contributes to the deforestation of 200 000 hectares a year and soil degradation.

Tobacco production depletes the planet of water, fossil fuel and metal resources. 4.5 trillion Cigarette butts are not disposed of correctly every year across the globe, generating 1.69 billion pounds of toxic waste and emitting thousands of chemicals into the air, water and soil. Discarded cigarette butts symbolize the first spring of plastic pollution in the world. The use of large amounts of water to grow tobacco, damaging ecosystems and reducing climate resilience is also depleting global water reserves. Tobacco companies also contribute 84 megatons of carbon dioxide equivalent to greenhouse gases. Cigarettes also cause serious injuries, including burns, massive fires and explosions.  For decades, the tobacco industry has intentionally used belligerent, tricky, and well-resourced tactics to clasp generations of users to nicotine and tobacco, lashing the global tobacco epidemic. The tactic is to replace smokers and guarantee market sustainability by making the products alluring and eye-catching to new and existing users, particularly youth. In 1984, R.J. Reynolds stated, “younger adult smokers are the only source of replacement smokers… If younger adults turn away from smoking, the industry must decline”. Such strategies to employ children and adolescents before they are fully conscious of the consequences of their actions have been effectively used by the industry since the 1970s and are still in use today.

The tobacco industry has a long-standing history of ambiguous campaigns about the risks allied with other tobacco products. Between the 1950s and 1970s, the industry introduced cigarette filters and “light” and “mild” cigarettes as facts mounted around the harms of tobacco, which it promoted as substitute to quitting, while being fully aware that those products were not less dangerous to health. Today, the industry continues misleading the public by portentously saying that some tobacco products are less harmful than others before the body of evidence on the harms of these products can be fully established. Over the last decade, as the awareness of the tribulations of tobacco use has grown and worldwide tobacco control efforts have deepened, the social adequacy of tobacco use has declined, directly impacting the sale of the most popular product. To preserve its profitability, the multi-billion-dollar industry has assertively started to look for newer markets in low- and middle-income countries and also come up with inventive and artistic ways to stay germane and to keep its products on the market. The strong marketing and promotional stratagem of the tobacco industry has led to an increase in nicotine and tobacco product use among youth internationally.

It’s a costly habit. There’s the cost of cigarettes, but also the cost of healthcare due to smoking-related health problems. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human services, smoking-related illnesses cost the United States $300 billion each year. Smoking affects those around you; secondhand smoke is just as destructive as smoking. Children exposed to secondhand smoke are at an increased risk for lung disease, respiratory infections, and asthma.In 1987, the World Health Assembly passed a resolution calling for the celebration of World No Tobacco Day every year on 31 May. The WNTD 2022 movement calls on governments and policy-makers to step up legislation, counting on implementing and strengthening existing schemes to make producers responsible for health, environment and economic costs of dealing with tobacco waste products. WHO also recommends that countries fully ban tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, including advertising CSR programmes, in accordance with the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC).

 The writer is a Prof. in English and Freelance Columnist based in Lahore.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Lahore Times.

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