Every year on World No Tobacco Day (May 31), smokers are urged to quit using cigarettes and tobacco products. In 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) is highlighting how children are especially vulnerable to messages designed to make smoking look glamorous.
In 2017, worldwide, tobacco killed 3.3 million users and people exposed to second-hand smoke (passive smoking). They died from lung-related conditions that include chronic respiratory disease, cancer, respiratory infections and tuberculosis.
In Australia, tobacco use and second-hand smoke also contribute to 1 in 8 heart disease deaths.
In many cases, these deaths are entirely preventable. Quitting tobacco products — including cigarettes, cigars, pipes and smokeless tobacco (chewing tobacco, or 'snuff') — could save your life.
No tobacco product is safe, even if it's labelled 'light', 'low tar' or 'low nicotine'. For example, there are more than 4,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke. Of those, 250 are known to be harmful and more than 50 are known to cause cancer. There's little difference between the amount of chemicals inhaled by people who smoke light cigarettes and the amount of chemicals inhaled by those who smoke regular ones.
And there is no risk-free level of exposure to second-hand smoke, meaning your cigarettes can damage the people around you.
Is vaping any better?
E-cigarettes are battery-operated devices that look and feel like a cigarette. They heat a liquid to produce a vapour that's inhaled, or 'vaped', by the user. Very little research has been done on the health effects of e-cigarettes.
It's often branded as a quit-smoking aid, but there's little evidence that vaping can help a person overcome nicotine addiction. In some cases, it does the opposite, with reports that some people actually increase their use of tobacco products while using e-cigarettes.
Under Australian state and territory law, the sale of nicotine e-cigarettes and liquid nicotine to someone without a doctor’s prescription is illegal. But the safety and quality of the e-cigarettes on the market that don't contain nicotine can't be guaranteed because they haven't been approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).
The possession or use of nicotine e-cigarettes without a prescription is also illegal in all states and territories except South Australia.
Experts are also concerned that kids may find e-cigarettes appealing. According to a joint position statement by the Heart Foundation and the Cancer Council, there have been anecdotal reports of e-cigarettes being confiscated in Australian schools. Flavours such as fruit and chocolate appeal to children (while tobacco and menthol flavours may charm adult smokers).
So what's a smoker to do?
Quitting smoking is challenging but there is help available. Don't try to do it alone: according to the Lung Foundation Australia, research has shown that the most effective way to quit is to get ongoing support from a health professional such as a doctor, nurse or pharmacist, using a combination of counselling and medication.
Follow these tips to get started.
- Shelve the excuses, such as 'I'll gain weight' or 'the damage is done'. Click here for common smoking myths and crucial tips.
- Call Quitline on 13 7848 (13 QUIT) for advice and counselling. You can also request that a free Quit Pack be mailed to you.
- Download the free app, My QuitBuddy, available on both Apple and Android devices. It's a customised, interactive app with quit tips, daily motivational messages and countdown to quitting reminders.
- Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about strategies and medication options to help you become smoke-free. You can also call the healthdirect on 1800 022 222 for advice, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria).
Whether you're a smoker or not, you can promote World No Tobacco Day. Watch this video to find out how.
You can also use the hashtag #WorldNoTobaccoDay on any social media to help spread the word.
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