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NEWS DISPATCHES > Tobacco Continues To Kill Millions

31 May 2006


“Tobacco addiction is a global epidemic that is increasingly ravaging countries and regions that can least afford its toll of disability, disease, lost productivity and death. The tobacco industry continues to put profits before life; its own expansion before the health of future generations; its own economic gain ahead of the sustainable development of struggling countries.” –WHO.


As different governments, NGOs and anti-tobacco groups try to raise awareness on this day (May 31) tagged World No Tobacco Day 2006, the scourge of tobacco still poses a challenge to human civilization. Initiated in 1987, the world no tobacco day is celebrated this year under the theme “Tobacco-Deadly in any form or disguise”.


Millions of smokers around the world die prematurely from tobacco-related illnesses such as lung cancer, emphysema (condition causing breathing impairment) and bronchitis (inflammation of airway tubes in the lungs leading to breathing problems and severe coughing). According to ASH (Action on Smoking and Health), it is estimated that about six million Britons and 60 million people worldwide would have died from tobacco-related diseases between 1950 and 2000.  The WHO says that tobacco is the second major cause of death in the world and smoking the single biggest preventable cause of death worldwide that claims 4.9million lives annually. By 2020, WHO estimates that tobacco will claim 10million lives annually based on current projections. Half of the people that smoke today-650 million people will eventually be killed by tobacco. It is worth noting that over 90% of today’s 1.3 billion smokers are in the developing countries.

puffing a cigarette in Cameroonpuffing a cigarette in Cameroon

The core of the tobacco problem lies in its addiction and therefore the focus of the fight should be at the level of preventing young people from getting hooked to it in the first place. It is harder to ask a smoker to quit smoking than to prevent a new person from being initiated into the smokers’ club. Apparently, it seems the effort to dissuade the youths is meeting with little success. According to GYTS (Global Youth Tobacco Survey), a study carried out in 130 countries revealed that nearly one in 5 students between the ages of 13 to 15 worldwide use tobacco products. According to a November 2005 article written by Francis Openda and published on Global Link website, the Kenyan Health Minister Charity Ngilu lamented that about 1.1million underage Kenyans were addicted to tobacco.


It seems the tobacco industry somehow manages to be smarter than the rest of us. They have survived high taxes, a ban or restriction on ads, a barrage of lawsuits (notably in the U.S) and other restrictive measures on tobacco consumers. Tobacco products coming in the form of snuff, chewing tobacco, water pipes etc represent the industry’s answer to the frontal attack on cigarettes. They hope consumers will consider these other range of products safer. ‘No way’ say the anti-tobacco people. All tobacco products are harmful even if they are labeled as ‘low tar’ or ‘light’ or in anyway as to disguise their real faces.


Many human civilizations have been consuming tobacco for centuries erroneously believing it to have beneficial effects. In my own community, it was culturally accepted that elderly people about 60 and above should be initiated to smoke tobacco leaves from a pipe. During the Second World War, American physicians endorsed sending cigarettes to soldiers on the war front and cigarettes constituted part of US military ration kits up till 1975. It was only as recently as 1964 that a US government panel headed by Dr. Luther L. Terry concluded after a study that “cigarette smoking is a health hazard of sufficient importance in the United States to warrant appropriate remedial action”. Ever since the publication of the report, health authorities around the world have been engaged in a cat and mouse game with the tobacco industry.

Njei Moses Timah