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World No Tobacco Day warns of the dangers to development

Smoking is one of the largest challenges to the sustainable development of countries around the world.
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That is why the World Health Organization has announced World No Tobacco Day, which falls on May 31, 2017, has the theme “Tobacco – a threat to development.”

Tobacco kills more than seven million people around the world every year and costs governments and households more than $1.4 trillion in health care expenses and lost productivity. 

“Tobacco threatens us all,” says WHO director-general Dr. Margaret Chan. “Tobacco exacerbates poverty, reduces economic productivity, contributes to poor household food choices and pollutes indoor air.”

Tobacco has a devastating impact on poor families in particular. According to the WHO, many of the 860 million smokers around the world spend more than 10 per cent of their money on tobacco products, leaving less money for food, education and health care. In some countries, up to 14 per cent of children leave school early to work in tobacco farming. And tobacco farms can be dangerous places where workers are often in close contact with hazardous chemicals.

Tobacco also affects the environment negatively. The WHO report “Tobacco and its environmental impact” found that tobacco waste contains more than 7,000 toxic chemicals that poison the environment, tobacco smoke emissions contribute thousands of tons of human carcinogens, toxicants and greenhouse gases to the environment, and cigarette butts account for 30-40 per cent of all items collected in coastal and urban cleanups. 

Governments are fighting back, though, with measures such as banning advertising and ordering plain packaging to reduce the appeal of tobacco products. But the best way to battle tobacco may be to target the price. “One of the least used, but most effective, tobacco control measures to help countries address development needs is through increasing tobacco tax and prices,” says Dr. Oleg Chestnov, the WHO’s assistant director-general for NCDs and mental health.  Increased taxation will be a disincentive to consumers and give governments more resources to mobilize against tobacco. 

There are also many aids to help smokers quit tobacco., operated by the Government of British Columbia and the B.C. Lung Association, offers personalized plans, professional coaching, daily motivations, a directory to local programs and a community of others involved in the goal of quitting smoking. Cessation programs like QuitNow can double a smoker’s chance of quitting. This is particularly important if you need medical procedures such as surgery performed, as you can reduce your risk of surgical complications if you quit smoking eight weeks or more before surgery.

B.C. residents also have access to free tobacco cessation aids, thanks to a B.C. Ministry of Health program launched in 2011. The program is open to those with a Medical Services Plan card/number and those eligible for Fair Pharmacare. Tobacco cessation aids include nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) and medication to help with withdrawal symptoms. People can visit local pharmacies to register and obtain access to free NRT. For more information, and for a list of other smoking and prevention links, visit the BC Cancer Agency at

Quick Facts:
  • Up to 10 billion of the 15 billion cigarettes sold daily are disposed of in the environment
  • Tobacco kills more than seven million people a year
  • 60-70 per cent of tobacco farm workers are women
  • Tobacco use is a threat to any person, regardless of gender, age, race, cultural or educational background
  • Some 80 per cent of premature deaths from tobacco occur in low- or middle-income countries
  • Each year, tobacco farming uses 4.3 million hectares of land, resulting in global deforestation between 2 and 4 per cent
  • Lung cancer is the most common form of cancer death in North America
  • Lung cancer kills more people each year than AIDS, liver cancer or ovarian cancer.
For more information on World No Tobacco Day, go to the WHO site at
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