World No Tobacco Day—What can be done?

World No Tobacco Day (31st May) is just one of eleven campaigns run by the World Health Organization (WHO), including World Tuberculosis Day and World Malaria Day, already covered in MDPI’s blog.

The observance aims to draw attention to tobacco’s consequences and emphasises that a world without tobacco is a cleaner one, with fewer deaths and less suffering.

So, why must we take action, what action should be taken, and what is MDPI’s role in the smoking epidemic?

Smoking kills—and more

In modern times, it has become common knowledge that smoking tobacco is harmful to the human body. Cigarette smoke contains over 7000 chemicals, at least 70 of which are carcinogenic.

Smoking primarily affects the lungs. The cilia in the lungs usually keep airways free of dirt and mucus; however, with each breath in of smoke, these purifying organelles are damaged. The alveoli, air sacs which facilitate the conversion of oxygen to carbon dioxide, are filled with smoke, preventing them from functioning properly.

The chemicals in cigarette smoke pass through the blood stream, damaging the blood vessels and causing them to constrict, increasing the risk of blood clots. This leads to strokes and heart attacks.

It is less well known, though, that cigarette chemicals also affect an individual’s DNA. There is an increased risk of DNA mutations that lead to cancer. The body’s ability to repair DNA is also severely impaired.

Smoking also affects the extremities. It damages nerve endings in the nose, mouth and eyes, causing the senses to be less effective. Tar blackens the teeth and gums, leading to tooth decay and increasing the risk of mouth cancer.

Stopping it at the source

In 2005, the WHO published its Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, a treaty that aims “to protect present and future generations from the devastating health, social, environmental and economic consequences of tobacco consumption and exposure to tobacco smoke”.

Signed by 168 countries, the treaty outlines the action that countries should take against tobacco use, including taxing tobacco products to reduce demand, raising awareness of the impacts of smoking, and creating dedicated quitting programmes for smokers.

Over the years, many nations have introduced restrictions in line with the framework. For example, Mauritius banned smoking in public places, workplaces and vehicles in 2009, and Argentina banned smoking on public transport, in workplaces, and in schools, hospitals and other public premises in 2011.

The year 2008 saw the WHO encourage governments to ban the commercialisation of tobacco use, including sponsorship, advertising and promotion by the tobacco industry.

Tackling the enormous challenges ahead

Tobacco still kills over 8 million people annually, with the majority of smokers being from low- and middle-income countries. It is estimated that 1.2 million of these deaths are caused by passive smoking.

This year, the WHO is launching the “Commit to Quit” campaign, acknowledging the difficulties of quitting smoking and aiming to form communities of people who want to quit during the pandemic.

Although nicotine is highly addictive, making quitting difficult, treatments such as nicotine replacement therapy can help. However, the WHO estimates that only 30% of smokers who want to quit have access to the tools they need.

This latest campaign will target those in the most at-risk countries, including China, Nigeria and the United States.

World No Tobacco Day and the power of research

MPDI supports the mission of the WHO, working to produce cutting-edge research on smoking and its negative effects. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health (IJERPH) hosts a wide range of research papers on the topic, such as “Factors Associated with Cigarette Smoking Cessation in Lao People’s Democratic Republic: Results from the 2015 National Adult Tobacco Survey” and “Effects of Different Graphic Health Warning Types on the Intention to Quit Smoking”.

It is our hope that with continued research on the topic, contributing to new regulations and action against smoking worldwide, the world will be free from cigarette smoking and its dangerous effects. See the IJERPH homepage for more.