According to the World Health Organization (WHO), tobacco consumption is one of the largest public health hazards the world has ever had to confront. Over 5 million people each year are killed, an average of 1 human every 6 seconds, the WHO says. Tobacco accounts for 1 in every 10 adult deaths. WHO informs that up to 50% of current users of tobacco products will eventually die of a tobacco-linked disease.

More than four-firths of the 1 billion regular smokers on this planet live in low- and middle-income countries. It is in these countries where the burden of tobacco-linked diseases and death is heaviest.

The WHO says that tobacco users die early and:

  • Deprive their families of income
  • Raise the cost of health care
  • Hinder economic development

In some parts of the world children at the lower end of the socioeconomic scale are commonly employed in tobacco farming to provide family income, making them especially vulnerable to green tobacco sickness. Green tobacco sickness is caused by the absorption of nicotine through the skin from handling wet tobacco leaves.

According to Cancer Research UK and the American Cancer Society:

  • Smoking causes:
    • Cancer – such as cancer of the lung, larynx (voice box), oral cavity (mouth, tongue and lips), pharynx (throat), esophagus, stomach, pancreas, cervix, kidney, bladder and acute myeloid leukemia. Cigarette smoking accounts for at least 30% of all cancer deaths in the USA. It is responsible for almost 9 out of 10 lung cancer deaths in the USA.
    • Heart and cardiovascular diseases
    • Chronic lung diseases
  • Smoking kills at least 120,000 people in the UK annually
  • Smoking is the single most preventable cause of early death in the world
  • Passive smoking (breathing in second hand smoke) is responsible for several hundred deaths annually in the UK. Passive smoking is particularly harmful to babies and children whose parents smoke in the home. Passive smoking (as well as active smoking) may also cause miscarriage, premature birth, low birth weight, stillbirth, cot death, ‘glue’ ear, asthma and other respiratory problems.
  • Smoking can raise a woman’s risk of infertility
  • Smoking has also been linked to a greater risk of gum disease, cataracts, bone thinning, hip fractures and peptic ulcers.
  • Erectile dysfunction – several studies have linked regular smoking to male sexual impotence (problems getting and/or maintaining an erection)

Sources: WHO, Cancer Research UK, American Cancer Society

World No Tobacco Day, 31 May 2010

Written by Christian Nordqvist