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The lowdown on smoking on World No Tobacco Day

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The lowdown on smoking on World No Tobacco Day


World No Tobacco Day (WNTD) is observed around the world every year on May 31. It aims to encourage a 24-hour period of abstinence from all forms of tobacco consumption across the globe.

Another intended purpose is to draw global attention to the widespread prevalence of tobacco use and to the negative health effects of using tobacco products, which currently lead to an estimated 5.4 million deaths worldwide annually.

The member states of the World Health Organisation (WHO) created World No Tobacco Day in 1987. In the past twenty years, the day has been met with both enthusiasm and resistance across the globe from governments, public health organizations, smokers, growers, and the tobacco industry.


- In 1987, the UN’s World Health Organisation passed Resolution WHA40.38, calling for April 7, 1988 to be “a world no-smoking day”. April 7, 1988 was the 40th anniversary of the WHO. The objective of the day was to urge tobacco users worldwide to abstain from using tobacco products for 24 hours, an action they hoped would provide assistance for those trying to quit.

- In 1988, Resolution WHA42.19 was passed by the World Health Assembly, calling for the celebration of World No Tobacco Day, every year on May 31. Since then, the WHO has supported World No Tobacco Day every year, linking each year to a different tobacco-related theme.

- In 1998, the WHO established the Tobacco Free Initiative (TFI), an attempt to focus international resources and attention on the global health issue of tobacco. The initiative provides assistance for creating global public health policy, encourages mobilisation across societies, and supports the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). The WHO FCTC is a global public health treaty adopted in 2003 by countries across the globe as an agreement to implement policies that work towards tobacco cessation.

- In 2008, on the eve of World No Tobacco Day, the WHO called for a worldwide ban on all tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship. The theme of that year’s No Tobacco Day was a ‘Tobacco-free youth’; the initiative was especially meant to target advertising efforts aimed at young audiences. According to the WHO, the tobacco industry must replace older quitting or dying smokers with younger consumers to keep itself profitable. Because of this, marketing strategies were commonly observed in places that would make smoking attractive to young people, such as movies, the Internet, billboards, and magazines. Studies have shown that the more young people are exposed to tobacco advertising, the more likely they are to smoke.

Key facts

- Tobacco kills up to half of its users
- Tobacco kills nearly 6 million people each year, of whom more than 5 million are from direct tobacco use and more than 600 000 are nonsmokers exposed to second-hand smoke. Unless urgent action is taken, the annual death toll could rise to more than eight million by 2030
-Nearly 80% of the world's one billion smokers live in low, and middle, income countries.
Consumption of tobacco products is increasing globally, though it is decreasing in some high-income and upper middle-income countries.
Source: WHO

According to the WHO , the tobacco epidemic is one of the biggest public health threats the world has ever faced. It kills nearly six million people a year, of whom more than five million are from direct tobacco use, while more than 600,000 of tobacco’s victims are non-smokers exposed to second-hand smoke. Approximately one person dies every six seconds due to tobacco and this accounts for one in 10 adult deaths. Up to half of current users will eventually die of a tobacco-related disease.

Nearly 80% of the more than one billion smokers worldwide live in low- and middle-income countries, where the burden of tobacco-related illness and death is heaviest.

Tobacco users who die prematurely deprive their families of income, raise the cost of health care and hinder economic development.

In some countries, children from poor households are frequently employed in tobacco farming to provide family income. These children are especially vulnerable to “green tobacco sickness”, which is caused by the nicotine that is absorbed through the skin from the handling of wet tobacco leaves.

Gradual killer

Because there is a time lag of several years between the moment people start using tobacco and the moment their health suffers as a consequence, the epidemic of tobacco-related disease and death has just begun.

Tobacco caused 100 million deaths in the 20th century. If current trends continue, it may cause about one billion deaths in the 21st century.

Unchecked, tobacco-related deaths will increase to more than eight million per year by 2030. More than 80% of those deaths will be in low- and middle-income countries.

Second-hand smoke kills

Second-hand smoke is the tobacco residue that fills restaurants, offices or other enclosed spaces when people burn tobacco products such as cigarettes, bidis and water pipes. There are more than 4,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke, of which at least 250 are known to be harmful and more than 50 are known to cause cancer.

There is no safe level of exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke.

- In adults, second-hand smoke causes serious cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, including coronary heart disease and lung cancer. In infants, it causes sudden death. In pregnant women, it causes low birth weight.

- Almost half of children regularly breathe air polluted by tobacco smoke in public places.

- Over 40% of children have at least one smoking parent.

- Second-hand smoke causes more than 600,000 premature deaths per year.

- In 2004, children accounted for 28% of the deaths attributable to second-hand smoke.

Every person should be able to breathe smoke-free air. Anti-smoking laws protect the health of non-smokers, are popular, do not harm business and encourage smokers to quit.

- Under 11% of the world’s population are protected by comprehensive national smoke-free laws.
-The number of people protected from second-hand smoke more than doubled to 739 million in 2010 from 354 million in 2008.

Tobacco users need help to quit

Studies show that few people understand the specific health risks of tobacco use. For example, a 2009 survey in China revealed that only 38% of smokers knew that smoking causes coronary heart disease and only 27% knew that it causes strokes.

Among smokers who are aware of the dangers of tobacco, most want to quit. Counseling and medication can more than double the chance that a smoker who tries to quit will succeed.

-National comprehensive health-care services supporting cessation are available in only 19 countries, representing 14% of the world’s population.

-There is no cessation assistance in 28% of low-income countries and 7% of middle-income countries.

Picture warnings work

Hard-hitting anti-tobacco advertisements and graphic pack warnings – especially those that include pictures – reduce the number of children who begin smoking and increase the number of smokers who quit.

Photo illustration of new mandatory packaging for cigarettes sold in Australia November 2012. REUTERS/Tim Wimborne

Graphic warnings can persuade smokers to protect the health of non-smokers by smoking less inside the home and avoiding smoking near children. Studies carried out after the implementation of pictorial package warnings in Brazil, Canada, Singapore and Thailand consistently show that pictorial warnings significantly increase people’s awareness of the harms of tobacco use.

Mass media campaigns can also reduce tobacco consumption, by influencing people to protect non-smokers and convincing youths to stop using tobacco.

- Just 19 countries, representing 15% of the world’s population, meet the best practice for pictorial warnings, which includes the warnings in the local language and cover an average of at least half of the front and back of cigarette packs. No low-income country meets this best-practice level. Forty-two countries, representing 42% of the world’s population, mandate pictorial warnings.
-More than 1.9 billion people, representing 28% of the world’s population, live in the 23 countries that have implemented at least one strong anti-tobacco mass media campaign within the last two years.

Combination picture of new graphic cigarette packages, released by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Reuters

Ad bans lower consumption

Bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship can reduce tobacco consumption.

- A comprehensive ban on all tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship could decrease tobacco consumption by an average of about 7%, with some countries experiencing a decline in consumption of up to 16%. – Only 19 countries, representing 6% of the world’s population, have comprehensive national bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship. – Around 38% of countries have minimal or no restrictions at all on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship.

Taxes discourage tobacco use

Tobacco taxes are the most effective way to reduce tobacco use, especially among young people and poor people. A tax increase that increases tobacco prices by 10% decreases tobacco consumption by about 4% in high-income countries and by up to 8% in low and middle-income countries.

Only 27 countries, representing less than 8% of the world’s population, have tobacco tax rates greater than 75% of the retail price.

Tobacco tax revenues are on average 154 times higher than spending on tobacco control, based on available data.

*The “Death Clock”, a digital clock which is part of an anti-tobacco campaign, is seen on a billboard in Dhaka January 5, 2013. The “Death Clock”, which keeps a rolling tally of people dying of tobacco-related illnesses each day, was installed on a busy road near the Bangladeshi prime minister’s residence and on the way to the national parliament house in the capital Dhaka. Around 57,000 people die annually from tobacco-related diseases in Bangladesh, on average 156 people per day, said Sayed Badrul Karim from the Progga NGO, which is supported by the Washington-based Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids (CTFK). Picture taken on January 5, 2013. REUTERS/Stringer *

Source: World Health Organisation

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