“It’s easy to quit smoking. I've done it hundreds of times.” - Mark Twain
May 31st is designated as World No Tobacco Day in an effort to alert people to the dangers of tobacco use and induce as many smokers as possible to quit smoking. Tobacco industry interference is the theme of this year’s World No Tobacco Day, and the campaign focusses on the need to expose and counter the tobacco industry’s brazen and increasingly aggressive attempts to undermine global tobacco control efforts. Developing countries are especially vulnerable and strategies need be worked out to provide their citizens and organisations wit the means of effective resistance to the pro-tobacco lobbies and industries. Nearly 80% of the world’s one billion smokers live in low- and middle-income countries. 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.
Tobacco kills up to half of its users, which adds up to nearly six million people each year, of whom more than 5 million are users and ex-users and more than 600,000 are non-smokers exposed to second-hand smoke. Unless urgent action is taken, the annual death toll could rise to more than eight million by 2030. Consumption of tobacco products is increasing globally, though it is decreasing in some high-income and upper middle-income countries. Tobacco control refers to a range of comprehensive measures to protect people from the effects of tobacco consumption and second-hand tobacco smoke.
Tobacco is made from the dried leaves of the tobacco plant. The majority of tobacco consumed in Australia is in the form of cigarettes. After the leaves are dried they are treated with around 4000 different chemicals before being made into cigarettes. Many of these chemicals are known carcinogens (cancer causing), and tobacco smoke itself is carcinogenic. Tar is the name given to the yellow-brown substance that stains smokers’ teeth, fingers and lungs. It is made up of many different chemical particles and is the main cause of throat and lung cancer in smokers. All cigarettes contain tar.
Nicotine is a drug that is found naturally in tobacco and it makes cigarettes and other tobacco products addictive. When nicotine is absorbed in the body it can cause a number of effects, including stimulating the nervous system, increasing heart rate, raising blood pressure and constricting small blood vessels. It is also highly toxic and was once used in pesticides.
Some of the other chemicals that are common in cigarettes are carbon monoxide (a deadly poison), toluene (an industrial toxic solvent), ammonia (a poisonous gas), acetone (paint stripper), arsenic and cadmium (poisonous metals) and many other poisons, irritants and allergens.
Tobacco smoking is the largest cause of preventable death and disease in Australia, contributing to the death of around 15,000 people each year. More people die from smoking-related diseases than from illicit drugs, alcohol and road accidents combined. Smoking affects both the interior and exterior of the body; some of these effects are immediate and others can occur later in a smoker’s life. Some of the consequences of smoking are: Blindness, infertility and impotence, stroke, cardiovascular disease and other diseases of the arteries, gangrene, often resulting in the loss of limbs, various cancers, especially lung cancer, less oxygen to the brain and heart (leading to degenerative changes), shortness of breath, increased blood pressure, gum disease, bad breath and stained teeth, increased wrinkling of skin and premature ageing.