Smoking or tobacco use is usually associated with health threats, World Health Organization (WHO) representative to the Philippines, Dr Gundo Weiler, said during the observance of World No Tobacco Day on May 31 .
“When we are talking about tobacco, we focus a lot on the immediate health consequences,” Dr. Wieler pointed out.
But then again, the health consequences of smoking are dire - 7 million people succumb every year due to smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke and on average, tobacco users lose 15 years of their life. Equally disturbing is that half of all smokers will die of tobacco-related causes.
By the numbers, tobacco-use health toll includes 12 percent of deaths globally, 14 percent of all deaths from NCDs (heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and lung disease), 5 percent of deaths from communicable diseases, including 7 percent of tuberculosis deaths and 12 percent of deaths due to lower respiratory infections.
In the Philippines, tobacco use kills 87,000 people, more than the total number of deaths from HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined.
But tobacco use also exacts a heavy toll on the economy and environment.
The annual global healthcare cost of tobacco is at USD 422 billion, according to WHO. Indirect costs of tobacco include productivity losses which may reach USD 100 billion every year.
Further, WHO noted that the annual cost of tobacco smoking is 10 times more than the total amount spent on distributing aid worldwide.
Locally, the cost of a pack of cigarettes is equivalent to 38 cups of uncooked rice sufficient to feed a family of four for 5 days.
Php 270 billion is lost to tobacco-related hospitalization and to productivity losses.
Essentially, tobacco can impact poverty by increasing health-related spending and threaten food security in which the agricultural land used in tobacco-growing could instead be used to grow food.
The WHO also cited connections between leading tobacco-growing economies and undernourishment.
Impact on women and children
“The tobacco industry relies heavily on child labour and results in many children missing out on school,” the UN health agency reported, noting that 63 percent of children of tobacco-growing families are made to work.
Thirty-two percent of children in tobacco-growing families are exposed to hazardous work environments, and 24 percent of children deal with dangerous chemicals.
Ten to 14 percent of children of these children miss out on school, according to the report.
Meanwhile, 7 out of 10 tobacco farmers are women. WHO states that, “the tobacco industry actively targets women by linking tobacco use to women’s rights, gender equality, glamour, sociability, success, and slimness,” the report noted.
Trees and cigarettes
It has already been established that tobacco use is harmful to the population. But more than this, it contributes significantly to climate change, deforestation and forest litter through the heavy use of pesticides, growth regulators and chemical fertilizers.
Tobacco waste has 7,000 toxic chemicals, including carcinogens, toxicants and greenhouse gases. Physically, cigarette butts account for 30 to 40 percent of waste in annual coastal and urban garbage, all of which pollute waters.
People are perhaps unaware that 300 cigarette sticks means the loss of a tree. Trees eliminate carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, thus deforestation can further exacerbate climate change.
“Tobacco harms the environment. Everyday, there are 15 billion cigarettes sold and 10 billion [found] their way to the environment,” reminded Dr Weiler.
Honoring anti-tobacco use advocates
During the Philippine celebration, six personalities in the Western Pacific Region were given recognition by WHO for their strong measures against tobacco, including Department of Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial.
Also honored were the Vanuatu Ministry of Health of Vanuatu for having the largest graphic health warnings in the Pacific - 90 percent front and back; Jonathan Liberman of Melbourne, Australia for his work in advancing the WHO FCTC in his country; the Shanghai Municipal People’s Government for paving the way for a smoke-free city; Japan Anti-Tuberculosis Association’s Dr Tadao Shimao for his anti-tobacco leadership; and the Department of Health of Tokelau for creating a strong policy towards zero importation of any tobacco products by 2020.
“We congratulate Secretary Ubial for this well-deserved recognition. She is always on the forefront in saying no to tobacco to protect health, reduce poverty and promote development,” said Dr Weiler in handing Secretary Ubial the WHO award.
She has made banning smoking her priority and has helped conceptualize the Red Orchids Award, an award given to hospitals, government units and local government units for adapting and maintaining tobacco-free environment, according to the WHO.
Past Filipino WHO World No Tobacco award recipients include former Vice President Jejomar Binay in 2007, the organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Alliance Philippines in 2011, former Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) chief Francis Tolentino in 2012, former President Benigno Aquino and the team for the Sin Tax Law in 2013, and the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) in 2014.
The primary purpose of World No Tobacco Day is to encourage a 24-hour abstinence from all forms of tobacco products among citizens from United Nations member-states. MIMS