Special Features
May 26, 2006
No matter how you dress up the package the product still kills

by Patsy Wyllie 26.MAY.06
Chief Health Educator

Only two causes of death are large and growing worldwide: HIV and tobacco. While most countries have begun, at least, to respond to HIV, the response to the global tobacco use epidemic has so far been limited. Tobacco is different from many other health challenges including HIV. Though its effects are debilitating and ultimately deadly, it is still packaged as being a legal, desirable and beneficial product. The reality is that by 2030, tobacco is expected to be the single biggest cause of death worldwide, accounting for about 10 million deaths.{{more}}

Although packaged as being trendy, and status promoting, few people now dispute that smoking is damaging to human health. The health consequences of smoking are two fold. It affects both the smoker and the non-smoker. Modern economic theory states that consumers are usually the best judges of how to spend their money on goods and services. This is based on the assumption that the consumer (in this case the smoker) makes rational and informed choices after weighing the costs and benefits of purchases (cigarettes) and that the consumer solely incurs all cost of the choice.

But can we truly say that this theory applies to smokers? Surely the perceived benefits from smoking, such as pleasure, appearance of being with the trend and the avoidance of withdrawal, do not outweigh the cost of their choice. What really is the cost of tobacco use?

Well before premature death ultimately occurs, there is the risk of such debilitating diseases as cancer of the lung and other organs, ischemic heart disease, circulatory diseases and other respiratory diseases. Secondly, smoking imposes involuntary costs on non-smokers. These include health damage as well as nuisance from exposure to environmental tobacco smoke or second-hand smoke.

This aspect of the danger of smoking continues to be contested by nay sayers who contend that second-hand smoke does not seriously affect persons.

Can anyone deny that second-hand smoke in an environment where there are persons who suffer with asthma, allergies or other respiratory conditions does not cause them serious and unnecessary problems?

Here’s what the evidence shows. It has been proven that exposure to second- hand smoke, even for brief periods, can cause eye, nose and throat irritation. It can also cause headaches, dizziness, nausea, coughing and wheezing. Second- hand smoke can seriously intensify symptoms in people with allergies or asthma. Long term exposure causes heart disease and cancer. And remember, even smokers breathe in second-hand smoke, in addition to the smoke they inhale directly, a double whammy.

The body’s ability to take in and use oxygen is decreased by breathing in second-hand smoke.

Additionally, smokers may impose unnecessary financial costs on the health system to treat the disease and their significant others, who are burdened with the responsibility of taking care of the sick person.

Thirdly, most new recruits and would be smokers underestimate the risk of becoming addicted to nicotine. As a result they seriously underestimate the future cost of smoking – that is, the cost of being unable later in life to reverse the initial decision to smoke.

With the obvious threat, what significant action can we take to reduce tobacco use in St. Vincent and the Grenadines? Let us begin by focusing for a moment how diseases are spread. There must be the host (man), the vector (disease carrying agent) and the environment. To deal with this deadly issue, instead of tackling the victim (man) why not focus on the environment? We can consider introducing in St. Vincent and the Grenadines laws on tobacco control which should address the following.

– Demand reduction that should include protection from second-hand smoke, packaging and labelling, advertising, promotion and sponsorship.

– Reduction of supply – including, sales to and by minors.

– Protection of the environment and health of persons.

In closing, it must be noted that failure to act on the growing body of evidence which establishes that smoking threatens individual and national health would leave us all agents – should we say, weapons – of mass destruction.

Refusal to take a stand on this issue of tobacco use whether under the guise that it is purely an issue of personal choice in a democratic environment, or the bizarre belief that the jury is still out on the deadly effects of tobacco, the reality is, no matter how we dress up the issue, one thing is undeniable, irrefutable, tobacco kills!