Did You Know...The Facts About Smoking and the Worldwide Crisis it has Caused?

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Carolyn Vachani, RN, MSN, AOCN
The Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania
Last Modified: February 3, 2011

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If you haven't heard that smoking is the number one cause of lung cancer, you must be living under a rock, or in China. A survey found that 60% of Chinese adults did not know that smoking can cause lung cancer and 96% were unaware that it can cause heart disease. In the U.S., smoking's health hazards have gotten lots of attention, but this is not the case in many developing nations. Smoking is a worldwide health crisis and the World Health Organization estimates that by 2030, tobacco deaths will reach 8 million a year if current trends continue. No matter where you live, education is key to helping current smokers quit and preventing the next generation from becoming addicted. Let's get the facts about this global epidemic.

  • The smoking rate among U.S. adults is 21%, among the lowest in the more than 60 years it has been measured. This is down from a peak of 44% in the 1950s, 40% in the 70s and 32% in the 80s.
  • Unfortunately, the rate among younger adults (ages 18-29) is the highest, at 30%, according to a Gallup poll (see poll results below).
  • Gallup reports one major reason for lower rates in older Americans is that many have quit the habit, which is great news. For every smoker in the 30-49 age bracket, there is another who is a former smoker.
    Current Cigarette Smoker by Age, Gallup Poll
  • Interestingly, the Gallup poll found that 74% of current smokers stated they wanted to quit (see quit resources below).
  • Smoking related diseases cost the U.S. more than 92 billion dollars a year.
  • Smoking is the single largest preventable cause of disease and premature death. It is a major factor in the development of heart disease, stroke and chronic lung disease. It can cause cancer of the lung, larynx (voice box), esophagus, head and neck region, stomach, and bladder, and contributes to cancer of the cervix, pancreas, kidneys and leukemia.
  • Despite the decreasing smoking rates in developed nations, like the U.S., rates are on the rise in developing nations, leading to a global tobacco crisis. Let's examine the effects of tobacco worldwide.
  • Worldwide approximately 1 in 4 adults smoke. About 1/3 of all adult males are smokers.
  • Most of these people begin smoking before age 18, with one quarter starting before the age of 10. Young people are more likely to become addicted than those who experiment with smoking later in life.
  • A particularly disturbing trend is being seen among young women. In many developing countries, women did not traditionally use tobacco, but aggressive marketing by tobacco companies has led to large increases in the smoking rates among young females.
  • How does this happen? In developing nations the tobacco industry targets women and children using the same aggressive marketing that has been outlawed in many developed nations. Believe it or not, "free samples" are available in many developing nations!
  • Worldwide, tobacco kills 5.4 million people a year from lung cancer, heart disease and other illnesses. Unchecked, that number will increase to more than eight million a year by 2030. Tobacco use is a risk factor for six of the eight leading causes of deaths in the world.

The World Health Organization has released a Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic (2008) and outlines a set of 6 measures (called MPOWER) providing countries with a roadmap to reverse the devastating effects of the tobacco epidemic. The recommendations address a few disturbing concerns, including:

  • Currently, half of the countries in the world (2 out of 3 in the developing world) do not have even minimal data about youth and adult tobacco use in their nation.
  • More than half of countries worldwide, accounting for nearly two thirds of the population of the world, allow smoking in government offices, workspaces and other indoor settings. Smoke-free policies in the workplaces of several industrialized nations have reduced total tobacco consumption among employees by an average of 29%.
  • Comprehensive services to treat tobacco dependence are available to only 5% of the world's population.
  • Graphic warnings on tobacco product packaging deter tobacco use, yet only 15 countries, representing 6% of the world's population, mandate pictorial warnings that cover at least 30% of the principal surface area.?More than 40% of the world population lives in countries that do not prevent the use of misleading and deceptive packaging terms such as "light" and "low-tar", none of which actually signify any reduction in health risk.
  • About half of the children of the world live in countries that do not ban free distribution of tobacco products.

The global tobacco crisis threatens more lives than any infectious disease. While it may seem out of the hands of the average citizen, we all play a role. We must educate the next generation about the dangers of smoking. Big tobacco companies rely on them to take the place of older users that die from using the product and do their best to get to our children early. Talk to your kids, grandkids, and your neighbor's kids - whoever will listen! It takes a village to care for the next generation; let's all do our part.

Quit Smoking & Educational Resources

Smoking cessation. Where do I start? : Start here for help in creating a quit plan, tips to coping with common obstacles and resources for support and smoking cessation programs.

Smoking Cessation Aids: This article reviews the available treatments, both pharmacologic (drug) and non-pharmacologic, to aid in successful smoking cessation.

Smokefree.gov: provides free, accurate, evidence-based information and professional assistance to help support the immediate and long-term needs of people trying to quit smoking.

Determined to quit.com: an online resource developed by the Pennsylvania Department of Health. This resource is available to anyone and is not restricted to Pennsylvania residents.

Visit you state’s Health Department website. Contact your human resources department, as many companies offer assistance to quit smoking.

American Cancer Society: provides information on tobacco and its affects and promotes the Great American Smokeout each November. Call to learn about quit programs in your area: 1-800-ACS-2345.

National Center for Tobacco-Free Kids: Organization focused on protecting children from tobacco exposure and addiction.


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