Tobacco Use & Public Health

The tobacco epidemic is one of the biggest public health threats the world has ever faced. It is killing more than 8 million people a year around the world. More than 7 million of those deaths are the result of direct tobacco use while around 1.2 million are the result of non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke.

All forms of tobacco are harmful, and there is no safe level of exposure to tobacco. Cigarette smoking is the most common form of tobacco use worldwide. Other tobacco products include waterpipe tobacco, various smokeless tobacco products, cigars, cigarillos, roll-your-own tobacco, pipe tobacco, bidis and kreteks.

Waterpipe tobacco use is damaging to health in similar ways to cigarette tobacco use. However, the health dangers of waterpipe tobacco use are often little understood by users.

Smokeless tobacco use is highly addictive and damaging to health. Smokeless tobacco contains many cancer-causing toxins and its use increases the risk of cancers of the head, neck, throat, oesophagus and oral cavity (including cancer of the mouth, tongue, lip and gums) as well as various dental diseases.

Over 80% of the 1.3 billion tobacco users worldwide live in low- and middle-income countries, where the burden of tobacco-related illness and death is heaviest. Tobacco use contributes to poverty by diverting household spending from basic needs such as food and shelter to tobacco.

The economic costs of tobacco use are substantial and include significant health care costs for treating the diseases caused by tobacco use as well as the lost human capital that results from tobacco-attributable morbidity and mortality.

In some countries children from poor households are employed in tobacco farming to boost family income. Tobacco growing farmers are also exposed to a number of health risks, including the “green tobacco sickness”.

Today, the Tobacco’s fastest growing markets are in Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean where regulations are lax and populations are growing, according to the latest edition of the Tobacco Atlas.

Smoking has declined in high-income countries, which the report ascribes to increased regulation, monitoring, and taxation. But in countries with less stringent monitoring and regulation, tobacco consumption is increasing. In sub-Saharan Africa, consumption increased by 52% between 1980 and 2016, or 164 billion cigarettes to 250 billion. Lesotho has seen a significant spike in smoking from 15% of its population in 2004 to 54% in 2015. The authors attribute this to aggressive marketing by tobacco companies.

It is therefore important for the government and policy makers across the Africa countries to rise in enforcing the laws that controls the use of Tobacco.

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