The perils of smoking

It cannot be denied that smoking is now one of the major health problems in the world. The celebration of World No Tobacco Day last May 31 was intended to make the people aware of the prevalence of tobacco use and its ill effects on health.

The World Health Organization expert advisory panel on smoking and health has urged physicians and medical workers to warn all patients, regardless of ailment, against smoking. It has estimated that tobacco use is responsible for at least three million premature deaths annually worldwide. Indeed, there is now a growing militant global advocacy against smoking.

The WHO panel on smoking cited scientifically-proven evidence of the causal link between a substantial number of diseases and tobacco use. Smoking has been pinpointed as the major cause of an estimated 85 percent of all lung cancer cases. No other cause, it reported, is more important than cigarette smoking, which has also been cited as the most important among the causes of obstructive bronchopulmonary diseases such as emphysema and chronic bronchitis. It has also been found to increase the chances of heart attacks among susceptible persons.

Smoking is now considered socially unacceptable in many countries because it affects both smokers and nonsmokers. Already, thousands of retail businesses and shopping malls across the United States and all over the world are voluntarily banning smoking within their premises to help eliminate what they call the environmental hazard faced by their nonsmoking employees and millions of customers. In the face of such findings, the WHO passed a resolution stating that passive smoking violates the right to health of nonsmokers who must be protected against this noxious form of environmental pollution.

A 17-year study of nearly 8,000 people has shown that people living with regular smokers are more than twice as likely to die of lung cancer than those living with nonsmokers. And not too long ago, Malcolm Law, one of the authors of a definitive analysis on passive smoking, said that for the last 10 years, studies have clearly shown that those who live with smokers face a higher risk of developing lung cancer by 25 percent.

Back in the 1960s, the US Surgeon Generals warning, Smoking causes lung cancer, heart diseases, emphysema and may complicate pregnancy, was ordered printed on the label of each pack of cigarettes for sale in America. All tobacco manufacturers were ordered to comply with US laws on print and TV ads that educate and warn Americans on the perils of smoking.

It is quite disheartening to note that more than 40 years later, the WHO reported that tobacco use continues to be a leading global killer, with nearly five million deaths yearly. It is said that tobacco-related diseases claim one life every six-and-a-half seconds and that the annual death toll is expected to double to 10 million by 2020, with most of the victims in developing countries like the Philippines.

Why so? Because Western cigarette companies have since found developing countries ripe (and willing) markets to compensate for dwindling sales at home. Also, their extensive and expensive multimedia ads and multimillion-dollar sweepstakes sponsored by giant US tobacco manufacturers have been luring more and more Filipino teenagers to smoke.

In the late 1960s, the Christian Herald in Boston, Massachusetts, published an unforgettable article titled What the Cigarette Commercials Dont Show. Author Hugh Mooney wrote: In cigarette country, TV commercials show two or three handsome, rugged cowboys on beautiful horses. Or there are sports cars, planes or scuba gears. The scene is always one of clean, windswept health. The people have a look of supreme confidence; the lovely girls, all smiles. I know another country. It is a land from which few return. In this sad region, there are no strong men, no smiling pretty girls. Executives and store clerks there look very much alike, not only because people living on the raw edge of a thin hope somehow get the same haunted expression on their faces. I am referring to cancer country. I have been there!

Mooney continued: Young people today are great believers in realism. It might be interesting, therefore, if some advertising agency were to do a cigarette commercial featuring a patient who has lost his throat to cancer caused by smoking. The camera might pan around the cancer ward, showing all of us, still faithfully smoking brand x or brand ythose of us who still have a complete mouth to put a cigarette into. They might even show the one total addict I met who smoked by holding his cigarette in the hole that led into his windpipe, through which he breathed air into his lungs. We dont ride horses or helicopters or sports cars in cancer country. We ride wheeled tables to the operating rooms and were lucky if we ride them back

The latest Philippine tobacco survey revealed that 28.3 percent or 17.3 million of the population, aged as young as 15 and older, had picked up the bad habit of smoking. Which was why the Department of Health has ordered schools to strictly implement a 100-percent smoke-free environment in its campuses. Teachers were also urged to warn their students on the perils of smoking.

Worthy of note is the recent DOH initiative to strictly enforce the Graphic Health Warnings Law of 2014 which requires graphic photos bearing the ill effects of smoking printed on packs of cigarettes and tobacco products as an effective way of deterring people, especially the young, from starting on the vice and encouraging smokers to kick the habit.

Smoking can be both physically and psychologically addicting. It is a habit very hard to break once established. The best cure for it, therefore, is not to start.

Dr. Florio A. Francisco is a pediatrician based in Cabanatuan City and is a 2010 TOPICS (The Outstanding Physician in Community Service) awardee.

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