The Global Toll of Smoking and How to Combat It

Despite the prevalence of smoking dropping since 1990, there are still a significant number of people who smoke across the globe. A worldwide study by The Lancet found that there are 1.1 billion smokers worldwide, with nearly one-in-four adults smoking tobacco. Across most countries, men are more likely to smoke than women. But all smokers are still at the same risk. Studies show that smoking tobacco can be deadly— accounting for 7.69 million deaths and 200 million disability-adjusted life-years, especially among males. Given the severe problems arising due to smoking, it’s essential to understand its impact on people globally and how these adverse effects can be combatted by individuals and legislation alike.

The harm of smoking

Health consequences

Cigarette smoking is the world’s leading cause of preventable deaths. Many health complications often arise from exposure to cigarette smoke, which contains as many as 7,000 chemicals, with at least 69 known to be toxic. Statistics show smokers are more likely to develop stroke, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer due to this dangerous smoke exposure. In addition to cancer, smoking can lead to lung diseases such as chronic bronchitis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)— causing irreversible lung damage.

Financial strain

Many smokers underestimate how tobacco use can cause them to struggle financially, and most of the time, these costs don’t include expenses associated with tobacco-related illnesses. Each year, the world reaches nearly US $1.8 trillion (PKR 340.2 trillion) in economic damage from tobacco use. These not only include health-related costs due to direct smoking and exposure to second-hand smoke but also money never accrued due to tobacco-related illness or death. This economic harm is especially problematic in low-income developing economies, such as Pakistan, which has a tobacco prevalence of around 19.1%. A study in Pakistan calculated the economic burden of smoking-attributable diseases and deaths, with the total annual costs equivalent to 1.6% of Pakistan’s gross domestic product in 2019. The tax contribution of the tobacco sector is only 20% of total economic and health costs, making smoking especially damaging to the country’s finances.

How individuals can stop smoking

Although quitting is the best course of action, most smokers struggle to stop due to tobacco withdrawal, which has symptoms that can interfere with everyday life. To ease the quitting process, many recommend using smoking cessation aids, like nicotine pouches. Smokers in the US can buy nicotine pouches online via Prilla in bulk, helping users make the most out of their shipping and delivery fees. Aside from being tobacco-free, smokers can choose from various flavours that match their tastes, be it coffee, citrus, or mint. Other smokers may opt for vapour-producing products, which can mimic the feeling of smoking. Vapes with e-liquid pods from JUUl and Uwell are readily available in multiple countries, including Pakistan and China.

Given the widespread availability of smoking cessation aids, individuals can overcome withdrawal and work towards a successful quit. In support of individual efforts to quit smoking, many governments and organisations have established quit-smoking programs to help smokers stay cigarette-free with minimal charge.

How legislation can curb smoking

Aside from individual efforts, legislative bodies are setting stricter rules and regulations to curb smoking. Countries like New Zealand are working towards a smoke-free generation by implementing an age-based ban starting in 2027. Furthermore, the government is also restricting where tobacco is sold and only allowing the sale of products with low nicotine levels, minimising the number of those starting to smoke. Other countries are placing harsher restrictions on cigarette use, like Mexico outright banning smoking in all public spaces, including parks, beaches, hotels, restaurants, and offices, in hopes of reducing tobacco use.

However, implementation and enforcement remain challenging. In recent years, Pakistan has faced trouble with tobacco smuggling— leaving many products available in the market untaxed and unregulated. Furthermore, there are limitations to taxation departments, leading to the Federal Board of Revenue losing out on billions of rupees in revenue collection. To successfully curb smoking and improve the economy in Pakistan, law student Kainat Saif proposes several measures to combat illicit business practices:

  • Proper monitoring and taxation of Green Leaf Threshing units (GLTs) that supply cigarette manufacturers

  • Law enforcement should provide legal protection to whistleblowers who report these illegal practices

  • Set limitations or prohibitions on advertising, promotions, and tobacco sponsorship and place focus on the hazards of smoking

Although smoking remains a widespread habit across the globe, more people are becoming aware of the detrimental effects of tobacco and are steering away from smoking altogether. Smoking cessation not only enhances the quality of life of ex-smokers but also acts in the economy’s best interest. With proper investment into smoking cessation, both individually and legislation-wide, it’s only a matter of time before smoking will cease altogether.

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