Choosing our own poison

by Dr. Philip S. Chua.
December 16, 2011
The World Health Organization observes “World No Tobacco Day” on May 31st each year to remind people around the globe about the deadly effects on smoking and to inspire smokers to quit the habit as a part of a healthy lifestyle.
The smokers and their family and other people around them are impacted directly and indirectly by this addiction. Globally, there are about 1.2 billion smokers. Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death, killing 5 million persons around the globe annually. This is extrapolated to increase to 8 million deaths each year by 2030. And the greater tragedy is that this massive lost of lives could be prevented by the pre-emptive option of abstaining from tobacco or quitting the habit.
At least 250 Filipinos die each day, yes, each day, or about 90,000 a year, from smoking-related illnesses, cardiovascular, pulmonary, metabolic diseases, and cancers, especially lung cancers. In Malaysia about 10,000, and Vietnam at least 40,000, die annually from tobacco-related conditions. Indonesia’s death toll is the worst: 400,000 a year.
The sad fact is that official global tobacco youth survey has revealed that the “smoking prevalence among Filipino youth had jumped from 15% in 2003 to 21.6% in 2007,” and expected to go even higher in the years ahead.
“We are losing the war against smoking,” stated Maricar Limpin, executive director of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Alliance Philippines (FCAP), “indicating that the law has not been effective.”
The 2003 act “sets both the guidelines for and regulation of the packaging, sale, distribution, and advertisements of tobacco products,” and also mandating the printing of warnings about the harmful effects of smoking.
Those figures above are from the 2005-2006 Tobacco and Poverty Study in the Philippines conducted by the College of Public Health of the University of the Philippines, National Epidemiology Center of the Department of Health and the World Health Organization (WHO).
The past 3 years or so, even the printing of graphic warnings to discourage smoking has been blocked by many lawmakers. Do they have any vested financial interest to protect?
“It is being blocked because of fears it could kill the tobacco industry,” Northern Samar Rep. Paul Daza, main author of the anti-smoking bill, said.
Obviously, for political correctness and expediency, majority of our legislators in Congress prefer to protect the tobacco industry and allow tobacco to continue to kill our people. What money from the tobacco lobby findings its way to the deep pockets of the legislators can do, huh?
Smoking kills. It is that plain and simple. There is no more doubt today that tobacco (cigarette smoking) is the predominant cause of lung cancer, besides other malignancies and cardiovascular diseases that maim, kill men and women and hurt our society, especially our children. In the United States alone, almost half a million die each year from smoking-related illnesses. Demographic studies have shown that smokers are about 10 times more prone to die premature deaths than non-smokers. This unnecessary loss of lives is at an immense direct cost for non-smokers in terms of increased health risks from passive smoking, in higher health insurance premiums and taxes, not to mention personal and family tragedies in all shapes and forms.
As we have alluded to in a previous column, secondhand smoke is even more dangerous. Innocent bystanders are forced to inhale cigarette smoke at their workplaces or in public places, thus increasing their health risk. The Environmental Protection Agency engineers have shown that even the best available ventilation and air-moving equipment were unable to reduce carcinogenic (cancer-causing) air contamination to a safe level for a non-smoker sharing work space with a habitual smoker.
If you think about it, our government and those of other nations are enabling drug (nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes) peddlers in the name of profit, wantonly sacrificing their citizens’ health and future, shortening people’s lives, wasting trillions of dollars or more of expenditures for research as to how to fight the habit, how to cure the tobacco-induced illnesses, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, hypertension, and cancer, etc. Allowing the development of addiction and diseases, and then finding a way to fight the addiction and the diseases it causes, does not make sense.
Having said that, I shall defend the right of people to smoke if they so choose, so long as they respect and do not abridge the right of the non-smokers to protect themselves from the more deadly health effects of secondhand smoke. Those who defend smoking are misinformed or are in denial, and doing a great disservice to the public, especially to the youth.
Unfortunately, the senseless global smoke-filled “killing field,” protected by governments, will continue. It is, indeed, most tragic for the victims.
As a cardiac surgeon, I find the solution too obvious to ignore, equally obvious to billions of non-medical people (including school graders) with common sense: Eliminate the obvious cause, get rid of the poison! Then, you don’t have to do expensive research looking for the “antidote” or finding the cure, etc. Instead, save the billions of dollars in each country and spend the money to eliminate graft and corruption among government officials and eradicate poverty among the destitute, homeless and hungry. This way, we can even have these added bonuses: a smokeless society, a healthier citizenry, a nobler and more compassionate nation, and a less polluted environment, ecologically friendlier to Mother Earth!
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