By Dr. Himanshu A. Gupte, Vice President – Health, Narotam Sekhsaria Foundation
Smoking leads to fatal diseases and causes irreparable losses, the awareness about it also quite wide-spread yet it remains rampant and poses as a major hurdle for the healthcare community around the globe. Smoking any substance is detrimental to overall health and is directly associated with accelerated mortality among adults.
According to the Demographic Health Survey, known as the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) more than 1 million adults die each year in India due to tobacco use accounting for 9.5% of overall deaths. The survey highlights that the overall prevalence of smoking tobacco use is 10.38%. Furthermore, smoking and exposure to second-hand smoke kill about 1.2 million Indians each year. Numerous clinical studies prove that smoking causes an array of issues. It is the leading cause of preventable diseases including cancer. The carcinogenic particles in the smoke enhance the risk of lungs, oesophagus, and mouth, throat and larynx cancer. Regular smoking suppresses the immunity system of the body, thus making it prone to infections and diseases. It has been established that smoking leads to the development of various autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, multiple sclerosis, Graves’ hyperthyroidism, and primary biliary cirrhosis. One of the most recent researches found a link between smoking and type 2 diabetes. The study highlighted that smokers are 30-40% more likely to suffer from type 2 diabetes. Smoking is also a known risk factor for hypertension and other cardiovascular diseases.
However, interestingly when we talk about the adverse effects of smoking, we only consider the risks it poses on human health, and forget to take in account the impact of cigarette smoking on the environment.
To start with, cigarette smoke releases toxic air particles into the atmosphere. Second-hand smoke contains carbon dioxide, methane and other noxious chemicals, that don’t affect the smoker as much as they pollute the air. Data reveals that smoking globally emits around 2.6 billion kilograms of carbon dioxide and 5.2 billion kilograms of methane into the atmosphere each year, becoming a major contributor to global warming. In addition to this, cigarette butts litter the environment and take several decades to decompose because most of the components in a butt are non-biodegradable and take years and years to break down. For example, the filters are made of cellulose acetate, sourced from plastic, are photodegradable which means they can be broken down by only UV light, thus taking an extended period to break down.
Researchers estimated that some parts of a cigarette filter remain in the soil for up to 10 years and as long as they are present in the soil, the soil remains polluted. The toxic chemical residues in the butts seep into soil and waterbodies causing soil and water pollution, and further damaging plants and animals that come in contact with these pollutants. Cigarette butts are also increasingly becoming one of the biggest threats to Aquatic life. Ocean Conservancy highlights that cigarette butts are the most common waste matter, and a huge number ends up in international water systems. Furthermore, high amounts of fertilizers, pesticides, and other chemicals used in tobacco farming introduce huge volumes of hazardous pollutants to the land and soils. These chemicals accumulate and gradually hamper the fertility of the soil, and make it unsuitable for other crops. The industrial processing and manufacturing of cigarettes also release air pollutants in many ways. From the machines used in tobacco farms to furnaces required in the curing process and transportation and shipping for industrial processing, the production of cigarettes increases the environmental footprint from greenhouse gas emissions.
The only way to curb these harmful effects— is for people to put a stop on smoking. There are several professionals and large organisations working on different strategies and therapies to encourage people to quit smoking. The motivation to quit can be steered by the numerous health advantages that follow once an individual quits smoking. Experts believe that the most effective way to help people in their quitting journey is to introduce and enrol them into tobacco cessation programs. The cessation programs aim at offering support and assistance to smokers in order to help them in becoming and staying nicotine-free. The general objective of cessation programs is to spread awareness and promote early prevention of diseases through counselling and treatment of smokers.