What is the risk to the individual?
The dangers of tobacco are well advertised-yet smokers and tobacco chewers continue to risk their lives and endanger those around them. Each year eight million people die from tobacco use-that is over 900 people every hour! The World Health Organization has committed May 31 as the World No Tobacco Day to remind us about the various ill effects of tobacco use. These include over 20 types of cancer, COPD which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis as well as eye diseases and even rheumatoid arthritis. The nicotine in tobacco is highly addictive and children in particular are at high risk of getting hooked. For every tobacco-induced death there are over thirty individuals living with the effects of tobacco. As a pulmonary and critical care physician, I have seen the effects up close. Grief and suffering is completely avoidable. Smokers suffer more dangerous effects when infected with COVID and have a higher chance of needing intensive care,
How can we quit tobacco use?
Fortunately there are ways to quit safely with minimal withdrawal effects using multiple techniques including medications and counseling. One approach is called the Ask, Advise, Assess, Assist and Arrange or the 5 A method. Many centers have trained counselors who will help in the journey to becoming tobacco free. Quitting is a process and may take several attempts but having helped many do this, one thing is for sure taking that first step is critical. Having a support group of family and friends is important. The person trying to stop tobacco use must also make every attempt possible to avoid places and situations where a trigger may encourage smoking, especially while trying to quit. This is not easy but can be done with some planning. Any smoker must also try and attempt to distract their hand to mouth habit by taking up other activity including going for a walk when the urge to smoke comes or even doing things like painting.
What is the impact on the planet?
While the individual effects of tobacco use are horrendous, this year the WHO is highlighting another sad aspect — the impact on planet Earth.Tobacco use requires 600 million trees to be chopped down and 22 billion liters of water are needed to make cigarettes. Tobacco smoke contributes to higher air pollution levels and has three kinds of greenhouse gases-carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. Around 4.5 trillion cigarettes are discarded in the environment each year.There are more than 7,000 chemicals released into the environment cigarette use–70 of them are known carcinogens. Cigarettes release microplastics and pollute. The data is clear and the danger is real-our future generations will have to breathe polluted air and tobacco contributes to this .
How do we solve this problem?
The solutions to this massive problem that we have been ignoring are quite simple — decrease tobacco use and also teach farmers to cultivate alternate crops. Several places have done this successfully as noted in WHO documents. More than 6000 bidi rollers and their dependents have been trained in alternative skills, such as tailoring and other vocations.Mixed cropping of hybrid cotton+chilli+groundnut, and hybrid cotton+chilli+French beans has also been done. In a district of Andhra Pradesh, a major tobacco producing area, many farmers have already replaced tobacco with the more profitable paddy and black gram.
What can an individual like you or me do to help decrease tobacco effects and impact? Educate yourself using the vast amount of information from reputed resources and do your best to quit tobacco and nicotine use in any form-cigarettes, bidis, tobacco chewing and e-cigarettes. It may seem small but the cumulative effect of saving this planet from further harm will add up. Commit to helping one tobacco
User quit in your circle of family and friends today. The facts are plain: tobacco kills, it affects the very air we breathe and we must do what it takes to stop this disaster.