Ills of tobacco

The World Health Organisation has used World No Tobacco Day to highlight the rate of tobacco-related lung diseases around the globe.

More than 40 per cent of all tobacco-related deaths are from lung diseases like cancer, chronic respiratory diseases and tuberculosis.

WHO is calling on countries and partners to increase action to protect people from exposure to tobacco.

World No Tobacco Day was on May 31 and the AMA issued a strong statement in support of the day and action needed to reduce tobacco harm.

“For many years, Australia has been considered a world leader in tobacco control, with plain packaging, graphic warnings, restrictions on advertising and continued increases in excise,” AMA President Dr Bartone said.

“As a result, smoking rates in Australia halved between 1991 and 2016, from 24 per cent to 12 percent.

“Despite these declines, smoking continues to be the leading preventable cause of death and disease in Australia, and it is a leading risk factor for many chronic health conditions.

“Tobacco is unique among consumer products in that it causes disease and premature death when used exactly as intended.

“Two in three smokers will die as a result of smoking. Smoking increases the risk for coronary heart disease, stroke, peripheral vascular disease, respiratory disease and many cancers.

“World No Tobacco Day provides an important opportunity to discuss quitting strategies with current smokers. Hopefully it also encourages many smokers to engage in a quit attempt.”

The WHO issued its own strong statement highlighting the damage tobacco causes to lung health.

“Every year, tobacco kills at least 8 million people. Millions more live with lung cancer, tuberculosis, asthma or chronic lung disease caused by tobacco,” said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

“Healthy lungs are essential to living a healthy life. Today – and everyday – you can protect your lungs and those of your friends and family by saying no to tobacco.”

In 2017, tobacco killed 3.3 million users and people exposed to second-hand smoke from lung-related conditions, including:

  • 1.5 million people dying from chronic respiratory diseases
  • 1.2 million deaths from cancer (tracheal, bronchus and lung)
  • 600 000 deaths from respiratory infections and tuberculosis

More than 60,000 children aged under five die of lower respiratory infections caused by second-hand smoke. Those who live on into adulthood are more likely to develop chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) later in life.

The WHO is urging countries to fight the tobacco epidemic through full implementation of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) and enforcing effective tobacco control actions, including WHO’s recommended “MPOWER” policy measures, for example by reducing demand for tobacco through taxation, creating smoke-free places and cessation support.

It is also encouraging parents and community leaders to take steps to safeguard the health of their families and communities by informing them of and protecting them from the harms caused by tobacco.

Tobacco smoking is the primary cause for lung cancer, responsible for more than two thirds of lung cancer deaths globally. Second-hand smoke exposure at home or in the workplace also increases risk of lung cancer. 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.

Tobacco smoking is 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. The risk of developing COPD is particularly high among individuals who start smoking at a young age, and those exposed to second-hand smoke, as tobacco smoke significantly slows lung development. Tobacco also exacerbates asthma, which restricts activity and contributes to disability. Early smoking cessation is the most effective treatment for slowing the progression of COPD and improving asthma symptoms.

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. Young children exposed to second-hand smoke are at risk of the onset and exacerbation of asthma, pneumonia and bronchitis, and frequent lower respiratory infections.

Tuberculosis (TB) damages the lungs and reduces lung function, which is further exacerbated by tobacco smoking. About one quarter of the world’s population has latent TB, placing them at risk of developing the active disease. 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 a dangerous form of indoor air pollution: it contains more than 7,000 chemicals, 69 of which are known to cause cancer. Though smoke may be invisible and odourless, it can linger in the air for up to five hours.

In order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target of a one-third reduction in NCD premature mortality by 2030, tobacco control must be a priority for governments and communities worldwide. The world is not on track to meet this target.