World No Tobacco Day 2015

By Shahnaz Radjy & Emily Leung

May 31 marked the annual World Health Organization (WHO) World No Tobacco Day (WNTD), focusing this year on stopping the illicit trade of tobacco products. The overall objective of WNTD is to bring health risks associated with tobacco use – and effective policies to address them – to the forefront of global health conversations. This is also an opportunity to reflect on the current state of tobacco use.

Seemingly to mark the occasion, new rules agreed to in November 2014 came into effect in China on June 1, banning public smoking. In a country with over 300 million smokers and both a high burden of disease and deaths attributed to smoking, this is an important step towards improved population health.

As a comparison, in the US the implementation of smokefree laws – applicable in public spaces ranging from workplaces to bars, restaurants, and even stadiums – are associated with reduced hospital admissions and a drop in heart disease deaths. However, it is still estimated that tobacco causes 437,000 deaths per year in the US – maybe even as high as 500,000 according to a recent New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) study. That’s 1 in 5 deaths overall.

Painful illnesses related to smoking include bronchitis and emphysema, cancer of the trachea and lung, and coronary heart disease, so even before causing death, tobacco use causes nearly $170 billion in direct medical care for adults and $5.6 billion of lost productivity due to secondhand smoke.

Efforts must therefore continue to further reduce smoking rates and to close the disparity gaps. In the US, a region in South Dakota has smoking prevalence as high as 36% whereas some parts of Utah report as little as 7.8% smoking, highlighting how a national average can sometimes only paint part of the picture.

In the aftermath of WNTD, we encourage everyone to do their share to reduce smoking – individuals can get help to quit – through programs such as SmokeFreeTXT or by using e-cigarettes – or find ways to support loved ones going through that process; employers can provide incentives and support for smoking cessation through workplace well-being programs; and governments can learn from what worked globally to make their population healthier.


What will you do to help spread the word about #NoTobacco?

Image credit: World Health Organization

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