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A deadly menace

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The risk of developing aortic aneurysm, and oropharyngeal and oesophageal cancers are linked to smoking

Picture: Reuters/Umit Bektas

IF THE world needed any reminder, then the 17th World Conference on Tobacco or Health did just that last week, underscoring why there should be no let-up in the quest to stamp out the deadly habit of smoking.

The gathering was held in Cape Town, the first time it was held in Africa – 51 years after the inaugural one held in the US in 1967. It was attended by more than 2 000 participants from 50 countries, under the theme Uniting the World for a Tobacco Free Generation.

Smoking, one of the most common forms of recreational drug use, has caused untold harm to society and is one of the leading causes of preventable death globally.

Diseases which can be linked directly to smoking, such as tuberculosis, lung cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes, are among the 10 leading causes of death in South Africa. Smoking during pregnancy may cause ADHD to a foetus.

The risk of developing aortic aneurysm, and oropharyngeal and oesophageal cancers are linked to smoking. In fact, smoking harms every organ in the body.

While smoking has caused more than
5 million deaths a year from 1990 to 2015, former New York mayor and philanthropist Michael Bloomberg gave a chilling warning to the conference: 1 billion people will die this century from smoking.

And tobacco companies have identified Africa as a future lucrative and growth market because of weak tobacco control regulations. An example is Lesotho, which has seen an explosion in the past decade, from 15% in 2004 to 54% in 2015, due to aggressive marketing by tobacco companies and weak laws.

The World Health Organisation says there are 1 billion smokers today, and one-fifth – 200 million – are women. According to the SA Demographics and Health Study released last year, almost 8 million South Africans smoke, with the Western Cape having the highest rate.

Which is why we back the plethora of anti-smoking interventions to which Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi has committed the government.

These include plain cigarette packaging; getting rid of smoking areas (abolishing the 25% of reserved smoking areas in public spaces); banning the display of cigarettes on shop counters; removing vending machines that enable the sale of cigarettes to minors; and more stringent policies on the minimum distance smokers can smoke near public entrances.

Some of these measures may sound over the top, but quitting smoking is indubitably a wise move.