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World No Tobacco Day: Smoking Is Deadly
No Tobacco

Every year, on 31 May, World No Tobacco Day raises awareness and gives people an opportunity to think about the deadly effects of tobacco use.

Smoking is still one of the leading causes of preventable death – around eight million people die each year from tobacco use. It is important for all of us to understand what tobacco can do to our health and how quitting smoking can lead to a much healthier future.

Why is tobacco a health risk?

Cigarettes, cigars, pipes, and smokeless tobacco products (like snuff) all contain harmful chemicals that can play havoc with our bodies. Some of the worst health implications of tobacco use include:

  • Cancer: Tobacco smoke contains over 7 000 chemicals, many of which cause cancers. These include cancers of the lung, throat, mouth, esophagus, bladder and pancreas.
  • Respiratory diseases: Smoking damages the lungs and airways, leading to long lasting breathing conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and emphysema.
  • Heart disease: Using tobacco puts you at serious risk for heart disease, and contributes to conditions like coronary artery disease, heart attacks and strokes.
  • Reproductive health issues: Smoking can damage fertility in men and women. Pregnant women who smoke are at higher risk of complications such as babies born before their due date, low birth weight, and birth defects.
  • Early aging: Smoking makes you look older faster, giving you early wrinkles, sagging skin, and a dull complexion.

Why it is essential to give up smoking?

Quitting smoking is one of the best decisions a person can make for their health. Research shows that quitting smoking at any age can significantly reduce the risk of developing smoking-related diseases. It can also increase life expectancy.

Quitting smoking can help:

  • Improve respiratory function: Within weeks of quitting smoking, lung function begins to improve, making breathing easier and reducing the risk of respiratory infections.
  • Reduce your risk of chronic disease: This includes heart disease, stroke, cancer, and other chronic conditions, leading to a longer and healthier life. According to the Centre for Disease Control and prevention,
  • Within 5-10 years of quitting, your chance of getting cancer of the mouth, throat, or voice box drops by half.
  • Within 10-15 years after you quit smoking, your risk of lung cancer drops by half.
  • Give you a better quality of life: Beating your nicotine addiction can improve your overall quality of life, including physical fitness, mental health and financial well-being.
  • Protect your loved ones: Secondhand smoke can harm non-smokers, especially children, which can cause respiratory infections, asthma, and other health problems. In other words, giving up smoking protects not only the smoker but also those around them.

Tips for quitting

Giving up smoking is challenging, but with determination and support, it’s achievable. Here are some tips that may help:

  • Set a date: Choose a specific date to quit smoking and mark it on your calendar. Having a clear goal can help you stay motivated and focused on your journey to becoming smoke-free.
  • Find support: Tell your friends, family, and healthcare provider about your decision to stop smoking. Their encouragement and support can make a significant difference to your success.
  • Recognise what sets off cravings: Pay attention to situations, emotions or activities that trigger your cravings for tobacco. Develop strategies to cope, like practicing deep breathing, chewing gum, or starting a hobby.
  • Think about nicotine replacement therapy: Speak to your doctor about finding a product like nicotine patches or gum that can help reduce your withdrawal symptoms and cravings.
  • Get professional help: If you are struggling to give up, then look for a counselor or a programme that can give you personalised support. There are resources available through the South African Heart Foundation.