Over 8 million people die each year from tobacco use, being responsible for 1 in 10 of every adult death. Tobacco use is the second leading cause of death worldwide and is a major risk factor for cardiovascular and respiratory diseases as well as over 20 different types of cancer and many other debilitating health conditions. The focus this year is on “Protecting the youth from industry manipulation and preventing them from tobacco and nicotine use” seeing that it poses a serious health threat to youths and young adults with significant implications for public and economic health in the future.

An estimated 1.3 billion people worldwide use tobacco products although tobacco smoke contains more than 70 chemicals that cause cancer. It also contains nicotine, which is a highly addictive psychoactive drug. When tobacco is smoked, nicotine causes physical and psychological dependency. Cigarette smoking is the most common form of tobacco use while there are other forms like using smokeless tobacco (including chew and snuff), smoking a product other than a cigarette such as a pipe, cigar, or shisha and second hand smokers (people exposed to a mixture of smoke from the burning end of a cigarette, pipe or cigar, and the smoke exhaled from the lungs of smokers).

Tobacco can also be deadly for non-smokers. Second-hand smoke exposure has also been implicated in adverse health outcomes, causing 1.2 million deaths annually. Nearly half of all children breathe air polluted by tobacco smoke and 65 000 children die each year due to illnesses related to second-hand smoke. Smoking while pregnant can lead to several life-long health conditions for babies. Interestingly, tobacco products are the only legally available products that can kill up to one half of their regular users, particularly when consumed indiscriminately.

As there are detrimental effects to smoking tobacco, there are also immense benefits to quitting smoking. Firstly, it reduces the chances of impotence, having difficulty getting pregnant, having premature births, babies with low birth weights, miscarriages and most significantly increasing life expectancy. In a more detailed and sequential order, cessation of the use of tobacco products causes an individual’s carbon monoxide level drops to normal; circulation and lung function improves, the risk of developing a coronary heart disease reduces. Within 5 – 10 years of quitting, the risk of coming down with a stroke is reduced to that of a non-smoker while the risk of lung cancer falls to about half that of a smoker and the risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, oesophagus, bladder, cervix, and pancreas decreases significantly.

The economic costs of tobacco use are substantial and include significant health care costs for treating the disease caused by its use. The scale of the human and economic tragedy that tobacco imposes is shocking, but it’s also preventable. Among smokers who are aware of the dangers of tobacco, most want to quit. Counselling and medication can more than double a tobacco user’s chance of successful quitting. Remember that when you light a cigarette, you burn an organ. Do not let tobacco take your breath away!

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