Just in time for World No Tobacco Day - which is today - the World Health Organization (WHO) has unleashed a barrage of statistics on the toll tobacco takes on lung health. For starters, tobacco kills at least eight million people a year across the globe. That’s according to WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who noted that millions more live with lung cancer, tuberculosis, asthma or chronic lung disease caused by tobacco.
“Healthy lungs are essential to living a healthy life,” said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “Today – and everyday – you can protect your lungs and those of your friends and family by saying no to tobacco.”
In 2017, tobacco killed 3.3 million users and people exposed to second-hand smoke from lung-related conditions, including:
- 1.5 million people dying from chronic respiratory diseases
- 1.2 million deaths from cancer (tracheal, bronchus and lung)
- 600 000 deaths from respiratory infections and tuberculosis
More than 60 000 children aged under 5 die of lower respiratory infections caused by second-hand smoke. Those who live on into adulthood are more likely to develop chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) later in life.
What can be done?
WHO is urging countries to fight the tobacco epidemic through full implementation of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) and enforcing effective tobacco control actions, including WHO’s recommended “MPOWER” policy measures, for example by reducing demand for tobacco through taxation, creating smoke-free places and cessation support.
The Organization also encourages parents and community leaders to take steps to safeguard the health of their families and communities by informing them of and protecting them from the harms caused by tobacco.
Exposure to tobacco impacts greatly on the lung health of people around the world, including in the following ways:
Lung cancer: Tobacco smoking is the primary cause for lung cancer, responsible for over two thirds of lung cancer deaths globally. Second-hand smoke exposure at home or in the workplace also increases risk of lung cancer. Quitting smoking can reduce the risk of lung cancer: after 10 years of quitting smoking, risk of lung cancer falls to about half that of a smoker.
Chronic respiratory disease: Tobacco smoking is the leading cause of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a condition where the build-up of pus-filled mucus in the lungs results in a painful cough and agonizing breathing difficulties. The risk of developing COPD is particularly high among individuals who start smoking at a young age, and those exposed to second-hand smoke, as tobacco smoke significantly slows lung development. Tobacco also exacerbates asthma, which restricts activity and contributes to disability. Early smoking cessation is the most effective treatment for slowing the progression of COPD and improving asthma symptoms.
Across the life-course: Infants exposed in-utero to tobacco smoke toxins, through maternal smoking or maternal exposure to second-hand smoke, frequently experience reduced lung growth and function. Young children exposed to second-hand smoke are at risk of the onset and exacerbation of asthma, pneumonia and bronchitis, and frequent lower respiratory infections. Smokers should ensure they never smoke in the presence of an infant or young child.
Tuberculosis. Tuberculosis (TB) damages the lungs and reduces lung function, which is further exacerbated by tobacco smoking. About one quarter of the world’s population has latent TB, placing them at risk of developing the active disease. People who smoke are twice as likely to fall ill with TB. Active TB, compounded by the damaging lung health effects of tobacco smoking, substantially increases risk of disability and death from respiratory failure. TB sufferers should take immediate steps to quit tobacco to enable their TB treatment regime to be effective.
Air pollution: Tobacco smoke is a dangerous form of indoor air pollution: it contains more than 7 000 chemicals, 69 of which are known to cause cancer. Though smoke may be invisible and odourless, it can linger in the air for up to five hours.
How tobacco relates to the SDGs: In order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target of a one-third reduction in NCD premature mortality by 2030, tobacco control must be a priority for governments and communities worldwide. The world is not on track to meet this target.