In the 20th century, 100,000,000 people globally died from tobacco-related disease. In this 21st century, 1,000,000,000 people around the world will die from smoking-related illnesses. It is not easy for the human brain to comprehend a number consisting of a “1” followed by nine zeros, when it refers to people dying and suffering from a preventable cause, and their families grieving and suffering along with them adds goodness knows how many more zeros.
Tobacco-related diseases constitute the most prevalent preventable cause of death in the world. However, whereas tobacco use has decreased in many developed countries, it is increasing alarmingly in developing countries.
It makes sense for profit-making organisations that sell cigarettes and other tobacco products to focus their marketing on those people who are the most likely ones to use their products. The ability and extent of their advertising is being restricted more and more in western countries, where legislation and anti-tobacco education have helped reduce the rates of smoking significantly. So it’s no surprise that tobacco companies now have turned their attention to countries where smoking has a low prevalence and where there is an abundance of potential smokers, especially vulnerable young men and women.
If you look at WHO tables for 2008, showing the rates of cigarette smoking among different countries, all of the ten countries in the world with the lowest smoking rates are in Africa. Of 135 countries studied, all ten of the countries with the lowest smoking rates are in African nations. I refer you to the World Health Organisation (WHO) site below. Click on this link and you’ll see numerous tables comparing the prevalence of smoking for males and females in different countries. Ethiopia has by far the lowest smoking prevalence for males, and for males plus females combined.
The results of the WHO studies are summarised in the following Wikipedia article. You can peruse this data relating to global smoking prevalence. The results shown in Wikipedia, and those I’ve compiled below, are from age-standardised WHO data, allowing comparison between countries.
I’ve picked out some examples. African countries are in bold:
7.6 % of of males and 0.9 % of females smoke in ETHIOPIA
10.2 % of males and 0.8 % of females smoke in GHANA
12% of males and 1% of females smoke in CONGO
12.6 % of males and 1.2 % of females smoke in CAMEROON
13 % of males and 1.2 % OF females smoke in NIGERIA
13.5% of males and 2.6% of females smoke in DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO
14.6 % of males and 3.2 % of females smoke in SWAZILAND
15.4 % of males and 2.4 % of females smoke in COTE D’IVOIRE
16 % of males and 2.6 % of females smoke in CHAD
16.9 % of males and 1.2 % of females smoke in ERITREA
70 % of males and 26.5 % of females smoke in RUSSIA
59.5 % of males and 3.7 % of females smoke in CHINA
33.1 % of males and 3.8 % of females smoke in INDIA
34.6 % of males and 25.4 % of females smoke in ARGENTINA
28.7 % of males and 1.3 % of females smoke in EGYPT
29.6 % of males and 5.5 % of females smoke in IRAN
36.6 % of males and 26.7 % of females smoke in FRANCE
63.6 % of males and 39.8 % of females smoke in GREECE
36.7 % of males and 34.7 % of females smoke in the UNITED KINGDOM
26.3 % of males and 21.5 % of females smoke in the USA
44.3 % of males and 14.3 % of females smoke in JAPAN
As a Doctor of Medicine, I took the Oath of Hippocrates. Hippocrates, the Greek Father of Medicine, told us, above all, to “do no harm” (Primum Non Nocere). All doctors across the globe should therefore work actively, in any way that they can, to reduce smoking rates, improve quit rates among their patients, and point out the processes and factors that make tobacco one of the biggest health hazards in human history. I should point out that studies in the USA have shown that even if a doctor just mentions the dangers of smoking and advises patients to quit smoking at each office visit, one in ten smokers will quit as a result of that advice. Doctors have a huge role to play in helping to curb the current trends in smoking rates!
It’s going to be difficult for poor countries to maintain their low smoking prevalence. The tobacco industry is wealthy, powerful, unashamed and zealous to expand and profit from their addictive and deadly products. Every responsible and concerned person including doctors and nurses, parents and school teachers, big brothers and sisters, family and friends of smokers, should discourage others, especially young people, from smoking, and encourage those who smoke to quit.
Lung cancer, just one of the many horrific smoking-related diseases, is commonly encountered in developed countries, yet it is not seen frequently by most doctors in countries where smoking has a low prevalence, but if the smoking rates in poor countries continue to rise, the effects on human health and the economy of these nations will be devastating! Who will be able to take care of so many patients with the many medical complications of smoking, in countries where medical care is already compromised due to financial and other constraints?
Cigarettes contain not only a cocktail of unhealthy and deadly chemicals (tobacco), but also an addictive substance (nicotine) that gets users hooked on them, not to mention additives that make tobacco taste especially pleasant and soothing. Tobacco companies have, over the last hundred and more years, perfected their products and how they are marketed. You can buy as many cigarettes as you want at your local store. Well, at least, though, it will say on the box that smoking “seriously damages health.”
Now, let me pose a question for you: If a company produced and sold harmful microbes, such as smallpox virus, anthrax bacilli or HIV virus, in a box, do you think this would be okay? Yet, between the year 2000 and the end of this century, a billion people will die from tobacco-related diseases caused by an addictive and health-damaging product that can legally be packaged in a fancy box and sold.