This Sunday, put away your cigarettes and lighters and turn on your “reflecting caps.” May 31 marks World No Tobacco Day (WNTD), one of the eight major global health days observed by the World Health Organization (WHO) and other public health advocates worldwide. On this day, we reflect on the various health risks associated with using tobacco, as well as the many ways in which the tobacco industry has achieved hooking millions of people to its products with overwhelming disdain for the value of human life and dignity.
As we approach this day and on this day, let’s also reflect on how far we have gotten as a global community in saving many people’s lives that otherwise would have fallen at the hands of tobacco companies. Let’s congratulate all those who, through perseverance and hard work, have fought the behemoth that is the tobacco industry to get us where we are today. Let’s also learn from them about how we can continue to tackle current and new challenges, such as illicit trade (this year’s WNTD focus), intelligently addressing e-cigarettes, and shifting our efforts to other parts of the world where regulation is weaker without lowering our guard where progress has been made.
Finally, let’s remember that these efforts need to be concerted and involve many actors—government, doctors, public health professionals, lawyers, activists, media, funders, and the general public, among many others. It has been a steep uphill battle, but we have achieved much.
During the 24 hours of World No Tobacco Day, should you stumble, below are a few things to reflect on:
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- Up to 50% of tobacco users die from tobacco-related diseases.
- For every tobacco user who dies, at least 30 people live with a serious smoking-related diseases.
- Close to 6 million people each year from tobacco-related diseases: more than 5 million are a result of direct tobacco use and 600,000 from exposure to second-hand smoke.
- The annual death toll is expected to rise to more than 8 million by 2030.
- Close to 80% of all smokers in the world live in low- and middle-income countries.
- Smoking-related diseases: cancer, heart disease, stroke, lung diseases, diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), including emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
- Smoking increases the risk for tuberculosis, certain eye diseases, and problems of the immune system, including rheumatoid arthritis.
Quotes Not to Live By (actual excerpts from tobacco industry documents)
“Long after adolescent preoccupation with self-image has subsided, the cigarette will even preempt food in times of scarcity on the smoker’s priority list.”
— November 26, 1969 presentation to the PM Board of Directors, “Smoker Psychology Research.” Bates No. 1000273741.
“It is important to know as much as possible about teenage smoking patterns and attitudes. Today’s teenager is tomorrow’s potential regular customer and the overwhelming majority of smokers first begin to smoke while in their teens. . . . The smoking patterns of teen-agers are particularly important to Philip Morris. . . the share index is highest in the youngest group for all Marlboro and Virginia Slims packings. At least a part of the success of Marlboro Red during its most rapid growth period was because it became the brand of choice among teenagers who then stuck with it as they grew older. ”
— March 31, 1981 market research report on young smokers titled “Young Smokers Prevalence, Trends, Implications, and Related Demographic Trends,” written by Philip Morris researcher Myron E. Johnston and approved by Carolyn Levy and Harry Daniel. Bates No. 1000390803
“The ability to attract new smokers and develop them into a young adult franchise is key to brand development.”
— 1999 Philip Morris report, “Five-Year Trends 1988-1992.” Bates No. 2044895379-484
“They represent tomorrow’s cigarette business. . . As this 14-24 age group matures, they will account for a key share of the total cigarette volume — for at least the next 25 years.”
— September 30, 1974 R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. marketing plan presented to the company’s board of directors. Bates No. 501421310-1335
“The studies reported on youngsters’ motivation for starting, their brand preferences, etc., as well as the starting behavior of children as young as 5 years old. . . The studies examined examination [sic] of young smokers’ attitudes towards ‘addiction,’ and contain multiple references to how very young smokers at first believe they cannot become addicted, only to later discover, to their regret, that they are.”
— 1980 report, “Apparent Difficulties and Relevant Facts.” Bates No. 689753864
Watch the video on illicit trade of tobacco products
Issues of focus for all World No Tobacco Days to date:
- 2015 – Stop illicit trade of tobacco products
- 2014 – Raise taxes on tobacco
- 2013 – Ban tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship
- 2012 – Tobacco industry interference
- 2011 – The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control
- 2010 – Gender and tobacco with an emphasis on marketing to women
- 2009 – Tobacco health warnings
- 2008 – Tobacco-free youth
- 2007 – Smoke free inside
- 2006 – Tobacco: deadly in any form or disguise
- 2005 – Health professionals against tobacco
- 2004 – Tobacco and poverty, a vicious circle
- 2003 – Tobacco free film, tobacco free fashion
- 2002 – Tobacco free sports
- 2001 – Second-hand smoke kills
- 2000 – Tobacco kills, don’t be duped
- 1999 Leave the pack behind
- 1998 Growing up without tobacco
- 1997 United for a tobacco free world
- 1996 Sport and art without tobacco: play it tobacco free
- 1995 Tobacco costs more than you think
- 1994 Media and tobacco: get the message across
- 1993 Health services: our windows to a tobacco free world
- 1992 Tobacco free workplaces: safer and healthier
- 1991 Public places and transport: better be tobacco free
- 1990 Childhood and youth without tobacco: growing up without tobacco
- 1989 Women and tobacco: the female smoker: at added risk
- 1988 Tobacco or Health: choose health