Keep the next generation smoke-free

Understanding the complexities of this issue is crucial in safeguarding future generations from the harmful effects of tobacco.
Image used for representation
Image used for representation

KOCHI: In a world where health and well-being should be prioritised, the pervasive influence of the tobacco industry remains a formidable challenge. According to WHO, this multi-billion dollar industry employs a variety of deceptive marketing tactics aimed at targeting youth.

Understanding the complexities of this issue is crucial in safeguarding future generations from the harmful effects of tobacco. The market offers a plethora of options, each with its unique appeal. Cigarettes remain the most common form, but smokeless tobacco, including chewing tobacco and snuff, presents a different set of risks.

Hookahs, or waterpipes, have gained popularity, particularly among young people, due to the misconception that they are a safer alternative. Beedis, small, hand-rolled cigarettes, are another form that appeals to various demographics, often because they are perceived as more natural or traditional.

The tobacco industry has adeptly diversified its products to cater to varying preferences and misconceptions. This diversification complicates efforts to combat tobacco use, as each type requires specific regulatory and educational strategies to address its unique risks. 

Protecting youth from the influence of the tobacco industry requires comprehensive and multi-faceted strategies. Stricter regulations on tobacco marketing, particularly digital marketing, are essential.

The digital landscape has become a new frontier for tobacco advertising, with social media platforms being used to target younger audiences through influencers and covert marketing tactics.

Increasing tobacco taxes is another effective measure. Higher prices deter youth from purchasing tobacco products, reducing initiation rates. Smoke-free laws that prohibit smoking in public places also play a crucial role in reducing exposure to secondhand smoke and denormalizing smoking behaviour.

Public awareness campaigns are vital in educating people about the risks of tobacco use. These campaigns, often spearheaded by health organizations and governments, aim to counteract the tobacco industry’s messaging and present factual information about the dangers of smoking.

Tobacco and Cancer:

A deadly connection 

Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death globally, responsible for over 8 million deaths annually. The connection between tobacco and cancer is irrefutable. Smoking is linked to several types of cancer, including lung, mouth, throat, oesophagus, and bladder cancers. The harmful chemicals in tobacco are primarily responsible for these cancers, wreaking havoc on the body’s cells and leading to malignant transformations.

The most common and lethal consequence of smoking is lung cancer. However, the carcinogenic effects of tobacco extend far beyond the lungs. Oral cancers, which include mouth and throat cancers, are particularly prevalent among users of smokeless tobacco. These cancers not only threaten life but also significantly impair quality of life, often leading to disfigurement and difficulties in speaking and eating. 

The toxic contents of a cigarette

A single cigarette contains over 7,000 chemicals, many of which are harmful to human health. Among these, tar, nicotine, and carbon monoxide are the most notorious. Tar, a sticky substance, accumulates in the lungs, leading to significant damage and increasing the risk of lung diseases, including cancer. Nicotine is the addictive component that keeps smokers hooked, making quitting a challenging endeavour. Carbon monoxide, a toxic gas, reduces the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood, leading to a host of cardiovascular issues. The presence of these chemicals underscores the insidious nature of cigarettes.

Quitting Smoking: Resources and support

Despite the addictive nature of nicotine, quitting smoking is achievable with the right resources and support. Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) is a widely used method, providing controlled doses of nicotine to ease withdrawal symptoms. In addition to this, medications such as varenicline and bupropion also aid in reducing cravings and withdrawal symptoms. The journey to quitting cigarettes can be less daunting with support groups and counselling. They offer essential emotional and psychological assistance, helping individuals navigate the challenges of quitting.

The battle against tobacco industry interference is ongoing, but with concerted effort and comprehensive strategies, it is possible to protect future generations. Understanding the various forms of tobacco, the severe health risks associated with its use, and the importance of quitting are crucial steps. Protecting children from the influence of the tobacco industry is not just a public health issue; it is a moral imperative. By safeguarding the well-being of the youngest members of our society, we invest in a healthier, brighter future for all.

Mind and body

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The author is a specialist in Early Cancer Detection and Prevention Oncure Preventive and Healthcare Centre in Kannur

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