The World Health Organisation created World No Tobacco Day in 1987 to draw global attention to the tobacco epidemic and the preventable death and disease it causes. The day draws attention to the widespread prevalence of tobacco use and to the negative health effects that lead to more than 8 million deaths worldwide each year, and almost 1.2 million non-smokers exposed to second-hand smoke. During the past 21 years, the Day has seen both enthusiasm and resistance from governments, public health organisations, smokers, growers and tobacco companies.

But before everything else, let’s ponder over the current deadly COVID-19 pandemic, and let’s see how badly the smokers or tobacco-consumers are more at risk. Smokers have much higher risk of contracting coronavirus as they are constantly putting their hands to their lips. If they fall victim to coronavirus, they run a greater risk of getting a severe case because their lung function is impaired.

We must quit today to reduce these risks and start living a healthier life. Here are some quick tips which can curb our cravings: Delay as long as we can before giving in to our urge. Take 10 deep breaths to relax ourselves from within until the urge passes. Drink water as much as one can as it is a healthy alternative to sticking a cigarette in the mouth. Do something else for distraction like taking a shower, reading, going for a walk, listening to music and so on. There are many resources within our own community. Let us find out if the healthcare providers, Quitline Counsellors and cessation programmes are available to support us to quit. Definitely, the women as mothers and sisters in a family – as it was highlighted in my recent article on 15th May International Day of Families – have to play a special and rightful role to combat smoking and all kinds of tobacco products.

The WHO Report, “Offering help to quit tobacco use”, tracks the status of the tobacco epidemic and interventions to combat it. The Report finds that more countries have implemented tobacco control policies, ranging from graphic pack warnings and advertising bans to no smoking areas. About 5 billion people – 65% of the world’s population – are covered by at least one comprehensive tobacco control measure, more than quadrupled since 2007 when only 1 billion people and 15% of world’s population were included.

A step-by-step guide was prepared by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) Secretariat, and the UN Interagency Task Force (UNIATF) on NCDs to support UN agencies in the establishment of smoke-free campuses.

Tobacco smokers are at significantly higher risk than non-smokers for post-surgical complications including impaired heart and lung functions, infections and delayed or impaired wound healing. Smoking distorts a patient’s immune system and can delay healing, increasing the risk of infection at the wound site. Smoking just one cigarette decreases the body’s ability to deliver necessary nutrients for healing after surgery.

There are about 1.3 billion tobacco users worldwide. That number would be even larger if tobacco didn’t kill half of its users. Every four seconds, tobacco takes another life. 80% of whom are in low- and middle-income countries. Tobacco use contributes to poverty by diverting household spending from basic needs, such as food and shelter, to tobacco. This spending behaviour is difficult to curb because tobacco is so addictive. It also causes premature death and disability of productive age adults in households.

Decades of the tobacco industry’s deception and devious tactics have hooked generations of users to nicotine and tobacco, driving this global epidemic. The multi-billion-dollar industry recruit’s new tobacco and nicotine users to reward investors with as much profit as possible and keep its business alive. Tobacco and related industries have increasingly preyed on children and adolescents, employing advertising tactics and targeting them directly with a new portfolio of products that threaten their health. Tobacco and related industries continue to oppose evidence-based measures, such as increases in excise taxes and comprehensive bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, and have threatened legal actions against governments that try to protect the health of their citizens.

The scale of human and economic tragedy is shocking, but it’s also preventable. Big Tobacco — along with all manufacturers of tobacco products — is fighting to ensure the dangers of their products are concealed. WHO Member States unanimously adopted the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), which introduced MPOWER, that builds the capacity of countries to implement measures to reduce the demand for tobacco products.

For decades, the tobacco industry has deliberately employed strategic, aggressive and well-resourced tactics to attract youth to tobacco and nicotine products which are designed to attract a new generation of tobacco users. In response, World No Tobacco Day 2020 envisages to provide a counter-marketing campaign and empower young people to engage in the fight against Big Tobacco.

As awareness of the harms of tobacco use grew and global tobacco control efforts intensified over the last decade, social acceptability of tobacco use declined. This catalysed the tobacco industry to revisit old tactics to restore its tarnished reputation and secure a new generation of users.

The tobacco industry has made well-researched, calculated attempts to redesign and rebrand its products to sustain profitability. It introduced cigarette filters and the so-called “light” and “mild” tobacco products as an alternative to quitting, reducing tobacco users’ perceptions of risk and harm, and undermining effective tobacco control policies. Such misleading marketing continues today, with the industry advocating for the harm reduction approach through new products such as electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) and electronic non-nicotine delivery systems (ENNDS), commonly referred to as ‘e-cigarettes’, and heated tobacco products (HTPs).

Advertising is increasingly shifting to digital and social media platforms, and the nicotine and tobacco industries are no different. “Influencers” on social media, including favourite apps and video games, who reach and engage children and adolescents are invited by these industries to serve as “brand ambassadors” or offered financial incentives to promote their products.

They also allow marketers to access profile details of users and their friends and effectively target potential customers. Countries that have adopted advertising, promotion and sponsorship bans, but have not explicitly banned cross-border advertising, are susceptible to exposing their youth to digital and social media advertising originating from other countries. Just over 100 hashtags associated with tobacco companies have been viewed more than 25 billion times around the world between 2007-2016.

There are several Immediate and long-term health benefits of quitting for all smokers. In 20 minutes, heart rate and blood pressure drop. By 12 hours, the carbon monoxide level in blood drops to normal. In 2-12 weeks, circulation improves and your lung function increases. By 1-9 months, coughing and shortness of breath decrease. Within 1 year, risk of coronary heart disease is about half that of a smoker’s. In 5 years, stroke risk is reduced to that of a non-smoker 5 to 15 years after quitting. In 10 years, risk of lung cancer falls to about half that of a smoker and the risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, oesophagus, bladder, cervix, and pancreas decreases. In 15 years, the risk of coronary heart disease is that of a non-smoker’s.

Quitting smoking reduces the chances of impotence, having difficulty getting pregnant, having premature births, babies with low birth weights and miscarriage. Quitting smoking decreases the excess risk of many diseases related to second-hand smoke, especially in children, such as respiratory diseases (e.g., asthma) and ear infections.

As it often is a man’s second nature to do something almost unconsciously – just like spitting, as I used to shudder watching almost all Premier League football players doing so, during my diplomatic assignment in Manchester – a cigarette stick in a box or lying on the ashtray (without a symbolic rose) would invariably attract a smoker or anybody, for that matter, prompting him or her to pick it up for a ‘golden’ or an ‘alcoholic’ puff.

It is indeed imperative that we the international community vow to make all real efforts towards inculcation of acceptable and correct norms and habits for the good of life, especially non-smokers.

Salahuddin Choudhry

The writer is a Rotarian and former senior career diplomat of Pakistan. He tweets @SaladinCh and can be reached at saladinch168@gmail.com