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Ahead of 31 May this year to mark World No Tobacco Day, WNTD, the World Health Organisation, WHO, has said it is taking the battle to discourage the use of tobacco products to countries that are yet to begin advocating for effective policies to reduce tobacco consumption.
The WHO said it is concerned that annually, approximately six million people die from consuming tobacco products. While five million die from direct consumption, over 600,000 non-smokers die from being exposed to second-hand smoke.
And if urgent steps are not taken, according to the health organisation, the global death rate from tobacco, which it called a “gradual killer” could hit eight million in 2030.
Approximately, it said, one person dies every six seconds due to tobacco, accounting for one in 10 adult deaths, adding that up to half of current users will eventually die of a tobacco-related disease.
“For World No Tobacco Day 2015, we are calling on countries to work together to end the illicit trade of tobacco products.
“From many angles, the illicit trade of tobacco products is a major global concern, including health, legal and economic, governance and corruption.
“The illicit tobacco market may account for as much as one in every 10 cigarettes consumed globally, according to studies, including information supplied by the global customs community,” a statement from WHO said.
Already, the European Commission estimates that illicit trade in cigarettes costs the EU and their member states over €10 billion annually in lost tax and customs revenue, and that about 65 percent of cigarettes seized in the EU are counterfeit.
“Illicit trade is not a problem just in high-income countries; almost all countries throughout the world are subject to illicit trade in some form or another.
“In response to the threat posed by illicit tobacco trade, the international community negotiated and adopted in November 2012 the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products, the first protocol to the WHO FCTC,” the statement posted on WHO’s website added, with the global health body promising to raise awareness on the harm to people’s health caused by the illicit trade in tobacco products, especially the youth and low-income groups, due to the increased accessibility and affordability of these products due to their lower costs.
WHO said nearly 80 percent of the more than one billion smokers worldwide live in low- and middle-income countries, where the burden of tobacco-related illness and death is heaviest.
It also said in some countries, children from poor households are frequently employed in tobacco farming to provide family income, but that these children are especially vulnerable to “green tobacco sickness”, which is caused by the nicotine that is absorbed through the skin from the handling of wet tobacco leaves.
It also accused the tobacco industry as being involved in the illicit trade of tobacco products and that the illicit trade of tobacco products is “a means of amassing great wealth for criminal groups to finance other organised crime activities, including drugs, human and arms trafficking, as well as terrorism.
“Unless we act, the epidemic will kill more than 8 million people every year by 2030. More than 80 percent of these preventable deaths will be among people living in low-and middle-income countries.”
While listing the consequence of tobacco products on individuals and countries, the WHO said policy makers must recognise that the illicit tobacco trade not only exacerbates the global tobacco epidemic and its related health consequences, “but that it has security implications through financing organised crime, including drugs, human and arms trafficking, as well as terrorism.
“Academic institutions can undertake additional research on the subject of the illicit trade of tobacco products to further document its harmful impacts, as well as the benefits to health, state finances and the control of criminal activities of curbing the trade of illicit tobacco products.
“A further area of research is the active role the tobacco industry plays in supporting the illicit tobacco trade.
“Because there is a lag of several years between when people start using tobacco and when their health suffers, the epidemic of tobacco-related disease and death has just begun.
“Tobacco caused 100 million deaths in the 20th century. If current trends continue, it may cause one billion deaths in the 21st century.”
There are more than 4000 chemicals in tobacco smoke, of which at least 250 are known to be harmful and more than 50 are known to cause cancer.
In adults, second-hand smoke causes serious cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, including coronary heart disease and lung cancer just as in infants, it causes sudden death.
“In pregnant women, it causes low birth weight. Almost half of all children regularly breathe air polluted by tobacco smoke in public places and in 2004, they accounted for 28% percent of the deaths attributable to second-hand smoke,” according to WHO which is now advocating heavy taxes on tobacco products, total ban on their advertisements, media campaigns and photographs with graphic warning signs to discourage consumption.