Tobacco smoke: The root cause of smoking hazards

Cigarette smoking remains one of the world’s most-concerning health issues. With over a billion people in the world consuming cigarettes, smoking kills more than 8 million people each year. More than 7 million of those deaths are the result of direct smoking while around 1.2 million are the result of non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke.

When a cigarette is lit, the tobacco inside it combusts (burns) to produce smoke. When burning takes place, the temperature in a cigarette can rise above 800°C at the tip. The smoke released through combustion contains more than 6,000 chemicals, of which more than 250 are known to be harmful and more than 69 are known to cause cancer. This shows that it is the combustion of tobacco and consequent emission of toxic smoke that generates the harm caused by smoking.

Smoking affects a person’s overall health. The toxins released from burning of tobacco in a cigarette enter the bloodstream and result in severe health conditions which can lead to death. A variety of cardiovascular diseases such as hypertension, atherosclerosis, stroke, etc., are likely to be caused by smoking. Combustion of tobacco in a cigarette is also the cause of most cases of lung cancer and can trigger several other respiratory disorders. Despite all these adverse effects, cigarette smoking continues to be on the rise around the globe. Worldwide, around 10 million cigarettes are purchased per minute, 15 billion are sold per day, and about six trillion are produced and used every year. Over 19% of the world’s adult population still chooses to smoke. These statistics translate to poorer quality of public health and are likely to rise unless consumers are offered suitable alternatives.

Although millions of people try to quit smoking cigarettes every year, most of them relapse for a number of reasons. For one, quitting smoking completely can be difficult for many. Furthermore, a huge number of smokers do not know the severity of the ill effects of burning of tobacco in a cigarette and many of those who do know, simply choose to continue smoking. However, for the adults who choose to continue smoking, there are a number of relatively less harmful alternatives available. These alternatives (e-cigarettes, vapes, heated tobacco products, nicotine patches, snuff etc.), commonly known as non-combustible alternatives, do not produce smoke, significantly reducing the harm otherwise caused by burning of tobacco in a cigarette  for smokers as well as the people around them and the environment. Adding to this fact, Dr Kgosi Letlape, past President of the Health Professions Council of South Africa and South Africa’s Report Commissioner said, “The science so far indicates that e-cigarettes and vaporizers are far less harmful than their combustible counterparts.” Quitting smoking is the best choice for smokers and they should be greatly supported in this journey but given the alarming number of smokers who still continue to smoke, non-combustible alternatives should be regulated as less-harmful alternatives to help these smokers reduce risks to their health. These products not only lower health risks caused by burning of tobacco but also encourage a positive attitude change by making the smoker feel more in control of their body and health.

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