Death by tobacco is an epidemic. Every year, over 5 million smokers and former smokers die from tobacco use. Every year, more than 600,000 non-smokers die from exposure to second hand smoke. No other consumer product kills that many people per year.
On January 17, 2014 a report from the U.S. Surgeon General’s office announced that smokers face a higher risk of lung cancer and pulmonary disease today than smokers did in 1964. This is shocking news considering the 50% drop in America’s smoking rate over the past 50 years.
In addition to lung and heart disease, the report links cigarette smoking to a long list of other diseases such as diabetes, tuberculosis, vision loss, rheumatoid arthritis, erectile dysfunction, colorectal and liver cancer and infertility.
Compared to a few decades ago, fewer people are smoking but cigarettes are more addictive and harmful. Manufacturers have changed the filters and paper in some cigarettes to maximise the ingestion of nicotine, the addictive substance among the thousands of chemicals and toxins in tobacco. Industry has also added chemicals to cigarettes to soften the taste, making it easier for first-time and female smokers to inhale more deeply and more frequently.
With these new cigarettes, young people who experiment with smoking will become addicted more quickly while existing smokers will find it harder to quit the habit. As long as tobacco remains a legal product, consumers will continue to buy into the addiction.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) pointed out that the tobacco industry is targeting developing countries where population growth is steady. By 2030, more than 80% of the world’s tobacco-related deaths will be in these countries.
What will happen next? Which regulators will step forward and reduce the harmful and addictive effects of smoking? Will there be more rigorous tobacco-control efforts? Will cigarette taxes go up? Will there be more rules to extend smoke-free areas? The outlook is far from clear.