SMOKING IN FIGURES
The devastating COVID-19 pandemic has claimed about 3.80 million lives worldwide. Twice as many people die each year from smoking-related illnesses, experts said.
Every day, more than 1 billion smokers around the world continue to smoke cigarettes. Their numbers have remained unchanged over the past 20 years, despite the enormous efforts made to control smoking for more than 10 years.
The victims of cigarettes
By the end of the century, the victims of cigarettes will reach 1 billion people if the attitude towards smoking is not changed and the approach to reducing the harm from cigarettes is not applied. International public health experts, scientists, medics and smoking control experts united around this opinion during the 8th Global Nicotine Forum 2021 (# GFN21).
For the eighth consecutive year, the event, which took place hybridly this year on June 17 and 18 online and in Liverpool, UK, brought together health experts, public health professionals along with users of smokeless alternatives, industry and investment analysts.
“People smoke to get nicotine, a relatively low-risk substance, but they are harmed by the thousands of toxins released by burning tobacco in cigarettes,” according to the Global Nicotine Forum – GFN.
Smoke-free, low-risk nicotine products play an important role in combating smoking-related diseases, according to forum experts. According to them, scientific information about cigarette alternatives should reach smokers so that they can make their choices and reduce the risk to their health.
Applying the harm reduction approach to smokers who cannot stop smoking is vital, experts say. And the ways, they say, are: to encourage smokers to switch to less risky products such as e-cigarettes, tobacco heating devices or the popular Swedish tobacco snus. Compared to long-term smoking, all these alternatives are significantly less harmful to health, experts say.
Although 98 million adult smokers worldwide have already switched to less risky nicotine products, international experts on public health and tobacco control still remain deeply divided on the role of the tobacco harm reduction approach, the GFN warns.
“It is worrying that international leaders in the field of tobacco control are stubbornly adhering to an irresponsible ban on tobacco and nicotine, and the WHO is actively spreading misinformation about new nicotine products. The war on nicotine is not in the service of public health and does not save lives, “said Professor Jerry Stimson, an emeritus professor at Imperial College London.
“Smoking control and harm reduction are not mutually exclusive concepts, on the contrary, they complement each other. It is estimated that by the end of this century there will be one billion deaths related to smoking. It is time for the ideology to give way to pragmatism in order to save hundreds of thousands of lives, “the forum organizers argued.
Experts emphasize the importance of the health system in each country having the legal right to recommend that adult smokers switch to low-risk products when they cannot quit.
The situation by country
Health authorities in the UK have been supporting e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation drug for years, and they are now the most popular drug on the island. This has also led to a reduction in the number of smokers in recent years in the country, which has set itself the ambitious goal of eliminating smoking by 2030.
“Society needs the right information because without it, smokers get confused. There should be campaigns – there was a campaign in Manchester, for example – on the bus tickets it was written that e-cigarettes are less harmful than smoking “, commented the director of scientific affairs at Juul Labs Saira Salim – Sartoni.
In Japan, cigarette consumption has fallen by a third since tobacco heating devices hit the market. It is declining at a much faster pace than the introduction of all measures to restrict smoking in the country so far.
Sweden, on the other hand, is the country with the lowest mortality and cancer morbidity due to smoking in the EU. It is the only Member State where snus (oral tobacco) has been authorized and has replaced smoking, to which experts attribute remarkable results in improving public health.
“This is happening because in Sweden nicotine is widely used in a less harmful way – here we use snus. We have the same nicotine use as in the EU, but only 5% of daily smokers, as well as the lowest incidence and mortality from cancer in the EU, “said Swedish founder of the EU for Snus movement Bengt Viberg.
“Nicotine is not a problem if the whole of Europe achieves such figures. That would mean preventing hundreds of thousands of deaths, “experts said.
Due to the very conservative approach of the health authorities in Poland, the situation in the country is quite different with innovative ways of taking nicotine. This became clear during the 8th Global Nicotine Forum.
“There are 8 million smokers in Poland, and in about 5 years 1.5 million people have started using e-cigarettes. We were hopeful that this would end smoking. But 8 million Poles continue to smoke, and those looking for an alternative to e-cigarettes are growing very slowly. This is due to the country’s health authorities’ approach to smoking, which in short sounds like “You stop or you die,” said Miroslav Dvorznak, a toxicologist at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poland.
Smoking and income
Safer alternatives should be available to people in low- and middle-income countries, and not just to consumers in rich countries – this is one of the necessary steps to address the global smoking pandemic, experts at the forum said.
80% of smokers worldwide live in low- and middle-income countries that have the least ability to cope with the incidence of smoking.
“In the last 15 years, the measures have worked in many countries and the number of smokers has decreased. In rich countries, the smoking rate is declining, there the greater stigma, tax increases and respectively cigarette prices are helping.
But there are countries where a large part of the population continues to smoke and these measures seem exhausted. We can only get a little bit if we do the same thing to stop smoking, “said Charles Gardner, a US public health specialist who was a former WHO adviser.
And another problem
There remains a group of people who are reluctant to stop or cannot stop – many people like to smoke.
What should be done for people for whom previous tobacco control measures have not worked? These people need to get the information and evidence of the reduced harm of smoke-free alternatives, ”Gardner added, noting that the“ baggage ”of misunderstanding the role of nicotine is a generational problem.
“If you ask ex-smokers who have switched to e-cigarettes, 75% of them reduce their dose of nicotine. The world may reach a point where nicotine is considered similar to caffeine, “he predicted.
Smokers, who number about 1.3 billion people in the world, improperly emit about 4.5 trillion cigarette butts a year, and they are the most polluting things on the planet, the DPA reported. The data are from STOP – an organization against smoking.
This staggering number is only part of the global damage inflicted by the tobacco industry. Tobacco is not only grown on deforested lands, but also “degrades soil quality and pollutes the air, land and water.”
Every year, billions of trees are cut down for cigarette production – 5 percent of the world’s deforestation. According to the STOP organization, cigarette butts account for about 20 percent of the waste collected by cleaning the oceans. The chemicals released from the butts are toxic enough to kill 50 percent of the freshwater and saltwater fish exposed to them for 96 hours, according to experiments cited by the organization.
The damage will increase with e-cigarettes. Their waste products could become an “even greater threat to the environment” than cigarettes, the organization warned, because they contain metal, electronics, disposable plastic fillers, batteries and toxic chemicals in the liquid. In addition to polluting the environment, smoking kills 8 million people a year worldwide and causes significant health care costs.