By Robin Gomes
Cardiovascular diseases (CVD) kill more people than any other cause of death worldwide, and tobacco use and second-hand smoke exposure contribute to approximately 17% of all heart disease deaths. Tobacco use is the second leading cause of CVD, after high blood pressure.
Heavy toll on health
Tobacco use and second-hand smoke exposure are major causes of CVD, including heart attacks and stroke. But knowledge among large sections of the public about the multiple health risks associated with tobacco is low, says the Director-General of the United Nation’s World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Ghebreyesus.
He noted that most people are aware that tobacco use causes cancer and lung diseases, but many don’t know that tobacco also causes heart diseases and stroke, the world’s leading killers.
The global tobacco epidemic kills more than 7 million people each year, which means that, every day, more than 19,000 people die from tobacco use or second-hand smoke exposure. Of the over 7 million tobacco-related deaths annually, about 3 million are from heart diseases and stroke, and close to 900,000 are non-smokers dying from breathing second-hand smoke.
Nearly 80% of the more than 1 billion smokers worldwide live in low-and middle-income countries, where the burden of tobacco-related illness and death is heaviest. And it is the people of these countries that are the targets of intensive tobacco industry marketing.
The scale of tobacco-related devastation of human health is shocking, but as Ghebreyesus said these deaths are preventable.
He said people can be protected from tobacco by banning its use in public places. Governments and people must , insuring there is no marketing or promotion of the “hazardous product”. Hiking prices and taxes on tobacco products reduces consumption and generates revenue that can contribute to improving healthcare systems. Such measures, Ghebreyesus said, can help reduce the suffering of the people caused by heart diseases.
Pope Francis is among the many who has added his weight against smoking. He has banned the sale of cigarettes inside the Vatican from the start of this year. Explaining the reason behind the move Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said on November 9 that the Holy See couldn’t be “cooperating with a practice that is clearly harming the health of people.”
The sale of cigarettes was a source of revenue for the Holy See, but Burke said “no profit can be legitimate if it is costing people their lives.”
Not enough progress
WHO and its member states established “World No Tobacco Day” in 1987 to draw attention to the widespread prevalence of tobacco use and to its negative effects on health. Since then the annual observance has been met with both enthusiasm and resistance around the globe from governments, public health organizations, smokers, growers, and the tobacco industry.
A new WHO report noted a notable decline in tobacco use since 2000, but the reduction is insufficient to meet globally agreed targets aimed at protecting people from death and suffering from cardiovascular and other non-communicable diseases (NCDs).