World No Tobacco Day: Risk Factors And Effects Of Tobacco On Health
Tobacco plants are found mostly in North and South American continents. These plants are being cultivated for the past 8000 years. In 1942, Christopher Columbus brought it to Europe during an expedition. In the 16th century, tobacco plants were brought to India by Portuguese traders.Tobacco can be consumed in different forms, which include smoking, chewing, dipping or sniffing. In India, tobacco is consumed in various forms, such as bidis, cigarette, cigar, cheroots, dhumti, pipe, chillum, hookah, etc. Consuming tobacco without combustion is called smokeless tobacco. The popular forms of smokeless tobacco are pan masala, mawa, khaini, gutkha, snuff, etc.
Here are a few important facts about tobacco:
- Tobacco smoking kills more than 7,00,000 people per year and, nearly 2200 deaths every day in India.
- 8,00,000 to 9,00,000 deaths occur per year due to all forms of tobacco use.
- Tobacco smoking triggers 4 lakh cases of cancers, 13 lakh cases of heart attacks, 80-90% of total lung cancer cases.
- It is a single most preventable cause of premature death.
- There are currently about 24 crore tobacco users aged above 15 years and above (19.5 crore male users and 4.5 crore female users) in India.
- India is the world’s third largest tobacco producers and the second largest consumers of unmanufactured tobacco.
- Tobacco deaths are on the rise, as estimated by WHO, from 0.16 million in 1990 to 0.4 million deaths in 1999.
- Percentage of tobacco consumption (in different forms) in India – 54% beedi, 19% cigarette, 27%- pan masala, snuff.
- 55,000 children start smoking every year.
- Cigarette smoke contains over 4000 chemicals, 69 of which are known to cause cancer. Second-hand smoke is also equally hazardous and causes severe effects on health.
There are a significant amount of toxic chemicals that can damage our cells. Most of the chemicals used to make cigarettes are known to cause cancer. Some tobacco leaves contain radioactive materials which come from fertilizers and soil. Tobacco contains nicotine, an ingredient which causes addiction, making it difficult for people to quit smoking.
What are the toxic chemicals present in tobacco?
- Tar – It contains poisonous chemicals.
- Nicotine – It’s an addictive substance present in tobacco, due to which smokers get addicted once they start smoking.
- Carbon monoxide – This poisonous gas reduces the capacity of red blood cells to carry oxygen.
- Hydrogen cyanide – Another poisonous gas which was used particularly in gas chambers during World War II.
- Certain metals such as lead nickel, arsenic, and cadmium are also present in tobacco.
- Pesticides – Pesticides are used on some tobacco plants. These pesticides contain Radioactive polonium 210. Cigarettes and other tobacco-based products made from these tobacco plants contain this radioactive element.
Consumption of tobacco is hazardous for health. People who consume tobacco suffer mainly from lung cancer, as the smoke gets accumulated in the lung and destroys the functioning of the lung. It is true that nicotine causes addiction, but it majorly affects the health due to the presence of chemicals in it. Tobacco smoking can increase the risk of heart disease, which can further lead to heart attack and stroke.
Pregnant women who smoke cigarettes are at a higher risk of miscarriage, stillborn, premature delivery, etc. Second-hand smoking also leads to lung cancer and heart disease. Children who are exposed to second-hand smoking are at risk of suffering from ear infection, lung infection, and severe asthma.
Few other health hazards/diseases associated with tobacco consumption are:
- Lung Cancer – 80-90% of lung cancer deaths is said to occur due to smoking. Lung cancer incidents are 10 times more in smokers, as compared to the number of incidents observed in non-smokers.
- Chronic Bronchitis Emphysema
- Ischemic Heart Disease - The risk of this disease is 2x higher in case of smokers.
- Peripheral Vascular occlusive diseases, gangrene.
- Cancer of tongues, oesophagus, larynx, pancreas, stomach, cervix, endometrium, urinary bladder.
- Neonatal deaths, stillbirths.
There are various effective treatments to prevent nicotine addiction, which includes behavioural treatment and appropriate medication. However, a combination of proper counselling and medication is considered more effective than only one of them. There are many technology-based interventions that are relevant for young adults between 19 -25 years of age. It is not considered a good idea to substitute another type of tobacco for cigarette, as it is not considered safe. People who quit smoking early can greatly reduce the risk of diseases and early death.
Last but not the least, you are never too old to quit smoking!
Dr Vishwanath Bellad is Consultant Pulmonologist, at BGS Gleneagles Global Hospital.