EDITORIAL: Smoking concerns
When we hear the calls to quit smoking, the thought that immediately comes to our minds is perhaps the need to ward off lung cancer, but few of us recognise that smoking is a greater cause of disability and death than any single disease.
There is evidence to show that cigarette smoke contains around 4 000 different chemicals, which can cause irreparable damage to the human body. In fact, at least 80 of those chemicals are cancer causing and hundreds more are poisonous including cyanide, carbon monoxide and ammonia. It is mind-boggling that a product that is so small can do so much damage and still be legal across the world. Such information alone should encourage those who are smokers to quit the habit, but given that cigarettes also contain nicotine, which makes them highly addictive, is the reason why it is so difficult to quit.
Certainly, countries across the world have taken steps to reduce the harm caused by smoking, particularly second-hand smoke and as such have banned smoking in public places, and Barbados is no exception. In some countries, they have even taken steps to ban tobacco from displays in shops. In the United Kingdom, for example, one anti-smoking law mandates that cigarettes and other tobacco products are to be kept from the public view in large shops and supermarkets. The reason for this was because smoking was resulting in the death of as many as 80 000 persons annually in that country and costing Government billions. The UK is still quite focused on reducing the prevalence of smoking, and has every year since 2012 been conducting a 28-day stop smoking challenge in the month of October dubbed ‘Stoptober’, which from all accounts has been a success. The premise is if a person can quit for 28 days, they are five times more likely to quit for good and indeed we can take a leaf from their book.
In Barbados and across the Caribbean, the smoking figures are nowhere near those in the developed world, but the habit is still costing countries money. What is of concern is that while all the countries in the Caribbean have signed and ratified the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, the actual implementation of the international treaty remains inconsistent and not all the countries have enacted tobacco control legislation. This must change; the region as a whole must take this issue seriously and all must create the legislative framework to address tobacco control.
According to 2005 statistics for the region, compiled by the Pan American Health Organisation, smoking prevalence in CARICOM countries ranged among men from 18 per cent to 36 per cent; and in women from 3 per cent to 11 per cent. This is in relation to regular cigarettes, but with a seeming uptake in the use of e-cigarettes, current figures are required. We say that too given that a 2016 study done by a team at the UWI St. Augustine Campus, which examined the prevalence and associated factors of e-cigarette use in young Trinidadian adults, showed that the prevalence among those aged 18-25 years was 24.6 per cent. Now that is just one Caribbean country, imagine what the prevalence in other countries may be.
One can perhaps argue that e-cigarettes, especially the flavoured ones, are considered fashionable by young people. Some have never used traditional cigarettes and the e-cigarette is their foray into smoking. Naturally, there is the fear that use of such devices will normalise smoking behaviour; can in fact become a gateway to other substances; and possibly even increase the chance of people using tobacco or perhaps even marijuana down the road. Should that occur, we may very well find that we may be launching a different type of anti-smoking campaign in the future.