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Smoking could kill 8m people a year, warns study

Without serious intervention, by 2030 smoking will kill a third more people globally every year.

09 February 2017
by Glynis Horning

Six million people die each year from tobacco use and unchecked, this devastating reality will rise by a third by 2030, according to a report by the US National Cancer Institute and World Health Organisation entitled The Economics of Tobacco and Tobacco Control (See the study here).

Just as alarming as the cost in lives will be the financial cost globally – predicted to reach US$1m trillion (R13 trillion) a year in healthcare expenditure and loss of productivity. “And most of these costs will fall on low and middle-income countries such as South Africa,” says Dr Yussuf Saloojee, executive director of the National Council Against Smoking (NCAS).

“The tobacco industry produces and markets products that kill millions of people prematurely, and rob households of finances that could have been used for food and education,” said the WHO’s assistant director-general for non-communicable diseases, Dr Oleg Chestnov, at the report launch.

What is needed to control tobacco use worldwide

The report says that policies to control tobacco use are capable of generating enough government revenues for health and development work to cut tobacco use and protect people from the biggest killers – cardiovascular (heart) disease, cancers, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and diabetes.

It says annual excise revenues worldwide from cigarettes could increase by 47% (US$140 billion) if all countries increased their excise taxes by about 80 US cents a pack (R10). This would hike the retail price by about 40%, and bring a 9% drop in smoking rates – that’s 66 million fewer adult smokers globally.

The report (peer-reviewed by over 70 scientific experts) found that:

  • Policies now exist to curb demand for tobacco products and the disease and death they cause, but are underused.
  • Interventions such as tax and price increases, bans on smoking and on tobacco marketing activities, and labels with graphic health warnings are ‘highly cost effective’.
  • Tobacco control does not harm economies, and the number of jobs the industry provides have been dropping, mostly through technological innovation.
  • While progress is being made in controlling ‘the global tobacco epidemic’, tobacco use is on the rise in some regions, and ‘concerted efforts’ are needed to stop this.

So what more should be done in South Africa?

According to The Tobacco Atlas of the World Lung Foundation, more than 569 2000 adults and 343 000 children in South Africa use tobacco every day, and every year, 31 800 die from tobacco-linked disease. Peter Ucko, CEO of the Tobacco, Alcohol and Gambling Advisory, Advocacy and Action Group (TAG), reports that 10% of all tobacco deaths are caused by second-hand smoke.

“Tobacco use in South Africa has halved since 1994, because of government action," says Dr Saloojee – in 1993, 32% of adults were smokers and it’s now down to 16%.

“South Africa’s public health measures are effective,” confirms Ucko, “But we must introduce wider and stronger control in the interest of public health.” He advocates increasing tax so the retail price of cigarettes is above inflation: “Government revenues will go up and smuggling won't increase: that’s an industry fallacy.”

He, and Dr Saloojee, urge banning all indoor smoking and controlling outdoor smoking, banning vending machines, removing point-of-sale advertising, and introducing plain packaging with graphic health warnings and messages “which tell the truth about tobacco use and smoking”.

Are e-cigarettes effective smoke cessation aids?

Although many tobacco companies themselves are now advocating e-cigarettes, and diversifying into manufacturing them, Ucko and Salojee aren't convinced.

“There is little solid evidence to suggest they are effective as a cessation aid,” says Ucko. “But there is evidence to indicate that using them keeps smokers addicted and using combustible cigarettes. Worse, kids start using them because they are marketed as fun and safe. They get addicted to the nicotine they contain and graduate to tobacco. E-cigarettes are safer than cigarettes but not safe; less harmful than cigarettes, but not harmless.”

How you can quit smoking

For free help quitting smoking, contact the NCAS helpline on 011 720 3145.

Alternatively, consult your doctor for a prescription for medication you can get from your Clicks pharmacist.

How Clicks can help you quit smoking

Clicks has launched stop-smoking service, Go Smoke Free​, at selected Clicks clinics.

IMAGE CREDIT: 123rf.com