Media Release : Love your lungs: Don’t take your life for granted
Annually on 31 May, the World Health Organisation and global partners celebrate World No-Tobacco Day by raising awareness on the harmful and deadly effects of tobacco use and to discourage the use of tobacco in any form. The theme for this year’s World No-tobacco day is: “Tobacco and lung health”.
Most smokers and tobacco users are well aware of the dangers of tobacco use. The most common health risk associated with smoking is the deadly impact of lung cancer. But smoking doesn’t only cause lung cancer; tobacco use negatively impacts your lung health and that of everyone around you. Tobacco use causes several types of cancer, chronic respiratory disease, tuberculosis and air pollution.
In the Western Cape, Tuberculosis is one of the top five leading causes underlying natural causes of death (Source: Mortality and causes of death in South Africa, 2015: Findings from death notification, issued by Statistics SA), with lower respiratory disease ranked as the sixth leading natural cause of death. The focus of lung health on World No-Tobacco day is therefore quite appropriate and the Western Cape Government Health extended support in celebrating World No-Tobacco Day at its public health facilities.
“We often take our lungs and its health for granted, forgetting that breathing is one of the basic requirements for living. Good lung health is essential, not just for breathing but for living a full life filled with many adventures,” said Dr Nomafrench Mbombo, Western Cape Minister of Health.
“We encourage people to love their lungs and take all possible measures to ensure that they keep their lungs healthy – whether it is practicing good hygiene habits to stop the spread of TB, or to quit the use of tobacco products that has been proved as the cause of many health problems, including lung health,” urged Minister Mbombo.
Exposure to tobacco, including cigarette smoke, can affect your lung health in several ways:
Lung cancer. Tobacco smoking is the primary cause for lung cancer, responsible for over two thirds of lung cancer deaths globally. Second-hand smoke exposure at home or in the work place also increases risk of lung cancer. Quitting smoking can reduce the risk of lung cancer: after 10 years of quitting smoking, risk of lung cancer falls to about half that of a smoker.
Chronic respiratory disease. Tobacco smoking is the leading cause of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a condition where the build-up of pus-filled mucus in the lungs results in a painful cough and agonising breathing difficulties. The risk of developing COPD is particularly high among individuals who start smoking at a young age, as tobacco smoke significantly slows lung development. Tobacco also exacerbates asthma, which restricts activity and contributes to disability. Early smoking cessation is the most effective treatment for slowing the progression of COPD and improving asthma symptoms.
Unborn babies and young children. Infants exposed in-utero to tobacco smoke toxins, through maternal smoking or maternal exposure to second-hand smoke, frequently experience reduced lung growth and function. Young children exposed to second-hand smoke are at risk of the onset and exacerbation of asthma, pneumonia and bronchitis, and frequent lower respiratory infections.
Globally, an estimated 165 000 children die before the age of 5 of lower respiratory infections caused by second-hand smoke. Those who live on into adulthood continue to suffer the health consequences of second-hand smoke exposure, as frequent lower respiratory infections in early childhood significantly increase risk of developing COPD in adulthood.
Tuberculosis. Tuberculosis (TB) damages the lungs and reduces lung function, which is further exacerbated by tobacco smoking. About one quarter of the world’s population has latent TB, placing them at risk of developing the active disease. People who smoke are twice as likely to fall ill with TB. Active TB, compounded by the damaging lung health effects of tobacco smoking, substantially increases risk of disability and death from respiratory failure.
Air pollution. Tobacco smoke is a very dangerous form of indoor air pollution: it contains over 7 000 chemicals, 69 of which are known to cause cancer. Though smoke may be invisible and odourless, it can linger in the air for up to five hours, putting those exposed at risk of lung cancer, chronic respiratory diseases, and reduced lung function.
Tobacco smoke has major implications for the lung health of smokers and non-smokers globally. The only way to stop the damage of tobacco on you and those around you, is to quit smoking. “Everyone has the right to clean air in their environment and be protected from second-hand smoke. If you struggle to quit smoking, you can consider smoking cessation medication – it works and can change and ultimately save lives,” said Dr Hermann Reuter, who is also a volunteer with the Smoking & Alcohol Harms Alleviation & Rehabilitation Association NGO in George.
George Hospital recently launched a smoking cessation programme for staff, proving that you can quit a lifetime of smoking addiction. Some of George Hospital’s success stories include staff members who used to smoke 40 cigarettes per day for more than 20 years, who quit smoking.
Parents and other members of the community should also take measures to promote their own health, and that of their children, by protecting them from the harms caused by tobacco. Do not become a statistic of lung disease, quit tobacco use now!
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Issued by the Directorate Communications for the Western Cape Government Health