The BBC English Dictionary defines tobacco as ‘the dried leaves of a particular plant which people smoke in pipes, cigars, and cigarettes.’ The products of the tobacco leaves can also be referred to as ‘tobacco’. In the same vein, tobacco smoking is the act or habit of smoking tobacco leaves or any of its products to include cigarette, cigar, snuff, et cetera.
Tobacco contains a stimulant known as alkaloid nicotine. Dried tobacco leaves are mainly smoked in cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco and flavoured shisha tobacco. They are also consumed as snuff, chewing tobacco, and dipping tobacco. Tobacco use is a risk factor for many diseases, especially those affecting the essential organs in the body including the heart, liver and lungs as well as several other protracted illnesses such as cancer.
In 2003, in response to growth of tobacco use in developing countries and its overwhelming deadly consequence, the World Health Organization (WHO) successfully rallied 168 countries to sign the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). The convention was designed to push for effective legislation and its enforcement in all countries in order to reduce the harmful effects of tobacco. This led to the development of cessation of tobacco products.
There are a number of types of tobacco including, but are not limited to, Aromatic fire-cured, Brighleaf tobacco, Burley tobacco, Cavendish criollo tobacco, Dokha, Turkish tobacco, Perique, Shade tobacco, White burley, Y1, and Wild tobacco. It is noteworthy that, any of the type involved contains unwholesome substances which cause untold harm to the body. In 2008, the World Health Organization (WHO) named tobacco as the world’s single greatest cause of preventable deaths.
Tobacco smoke contains many chemicals that are harmful to both smokers and non-smokers. Research shows that inhaling even a little tobacco smoke can be harmful to the body. This is why among the various means of consuming tobacco leaves, which include sniffing, smoking, chewing and stuffing, smoking remains the most dangerous and delicate.
Scientifically survey indicates that, of the more than 7,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke, at least 250 including hydrogen cyanide, carbon monoxide and ammonia are known to be harmful. Among the 250 known harmful chemicals in tobacco smoke, at least 69 can cause cancer, especially in the lung, kidney, mouth, larynx, esophagus, bladder, pancreas and cervix.
Tobacco smokers are exposed to variety of risks or health complications namely: blood clots and aneurysms in the brain which can lead to stroke, coronary artery disease including angina and heart attacks, high blood pressure, poor blood supply to the legs, problems with erections due to decreased blood flow into the private part.
Other health risks or problems are poor wound healing especially after surgery, asthma, problems during pregnancy such as babies born at low birth weight, premature labour, miscarriage and cleft lip; decreased ability to taste and smell, harm to sperm which contributes to infertility, loss of sight as a result of an increased risk of macular degeneration, tooth and gum diseases as well as wrinkling of the skin.
Smokers who switch to smokeless tobacco instead of quitting tobacco intake completely still have a number of health risks to include increased risk of mouth or nasal cancer, gum problems, tooth wear, cavities, worsening high blood pressure, and angina. Those who do not smoke or take any form of tobacco but always stay around smokers are also exposed to some health issues such as heart attack and other heart related diseases, lung cancer and sudden reactions involving the eye, nose, throat, and lower respiratory tract.
Infants and children who are regularly exposed to secondhand smoke are not left out. They can easily contract asthma, infections like virus-caused upper respiratory diseases, ear infections and pneumonia; lung damage or poor lung function, as well as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
The global community commemorated the World No Tobacco Day May 31, 2016. The day was instituted by the United Nations (UN) through the effort of the World Health Organization (WHO). Annually, WHO alongside its partners mark the World No Tobacco Day (WNTD), highlighting the health risks associated with tobacco use and advocating for effective policies to reduce its consumption.
This year’s commemoration called on countries to work together towards ending the ongoing illicit trade of tobacco products. Frankly, from several angles such as social, health, legal, economy, and governance, the illicit trade of tobacco products has been a major global concern and Nigeria isn’t exceptional.
The bitter fact is that the global tobacco epidemic kills nearly six million people each year, of which more than 600,000 are non-smokers dying from breathing secondhand smoke. Unless we act, according to WHO, the epidemic is likely to kill more than eight million persons annually by the year 2030; and more than eighty percent (80%) of these preventable mortality rates will be among people living in low and middle income countries like Nigeria.
As the world commemorates the annual World No Tobacco Day, it is the responsibility of every Nigerian to acknowledge that the dangers of tobacco intake can only be avoided if its addicts as well as illicit traffickers holistically desist from such uncalled act.
Nwaozor writes from Owerri