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Smoking – a global health issue

General Health and Wellbeing Professor Jason Abbott Associate
If you know if a smoker, smoke yourself or are around second hand smoke, be aware of the effects this has on your health, that of your children and your chances of fertility...

The use of tobacco is a global health issue and it is important to highlight the issues associated with smoking and the damage it does to health – both to those who smoke and those around them.  It is estimated that the use of tobacco products is responsible for killing 6 million people each year and 10% of those die  as the result of second hand or passive smoking.  Of all those people who die, those living in a low or middle income country are most at risk and 80% of deaths come from these areas.

The World Health Organisation‘s World No Tobacco Day targeted illegal tobacco products in 2015, and promoted plain packaging in 2016.  Illicit tobacco products account for one in 10 cigarettes and are found in equal distribution in both wealthy and low income countries.  When they bypass the strict regulations and health messages and images of how smoking can injure individuals – including mothers and their unborn children, there is an increase in direct harm and a reduced capacity to deal with the problems associated with tobacco use.

Australia became the first country to fully implement plain packaging in December 2012.  Australia’s post-implementation review found that introduction of plain packaging together with introduction of larger health warnings and new warnings had reduced smoking prevalence in Australia beyond the pre-existing downward trend. Specifically, the report estimated that between December 2012 and September 2015 “the 2012 packaging changes reduced average smoking prevalence among Australians aged 14 years and over by 0.55 percentage points” (Reference: Post-Implementation Review Tobacco Plain Packaging, 2016, Australian Government, Department of Health, 26 February 2016, https://ris.govspace.gov.au/files/2016/02/Tobacco-Plain-Packaging-PIR.pdf, paragraph 107).

It needs to be remembered that there is no safe level of exposure to tobacco smoke, either as a smoker or second hand smoke and the number of women’s health issues that are linked to cigarette smoking are substantial.  Although the overall rate of smoking is decreasing in general, cigarette use is the single biggest cause of preventable premature death.  Here are some of the issues that may be associated with cigarette use and how the reduction in smoking may improve the lives of women – whether they are pregnant or not.

Fertility:  For those trying to become pregnant, smoking may change both egg and sperm quality and its cessation will improve the chances of conception.  There is an impact on decreasing miscarriage in this group and improved outcomes should assistance to becoming pregnant be required.

Baby’s health:  Once pregnant, prenatal use of cigarettes by a woman may increase the risk of growth restriction and growth issues.  Babies born to mothers who smoke have a higher risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) and a number of other health issues including:

  1. Chest infections;
  2. Middle ear infections;
  3. Hearing loss;
  4. Tooth issues;
  5. Asthma.

Child development:  Studies have also examined the effects of cigarette smoking prenatally and second hand smoke exposure on growing babies and infants through to children and adolescents and found that there are changes to behaviour and the capacity for the child to learn effectively.  Some of these specific symptoms include problems with learning, memory and hearing as well as altered and negative behaviour patterns.

Cancer:  It is not only smoking in and around pregnancy that is a risk factor for ill-health with women who smoke having a higher risk of a variety of pre-cancerous and cancerous conditions.  It is well researched that smoking increases the risk of pre-cancerous changes of the cervix and abnormalities of cervical smear tests, the severity of changes and the progression to cancer.  Other types of cancer including uterine, ovarian and vulval cancers are all increased in smokers.

Post-operative recovery:  For women who require a surgical procedure for a specific condition, smoking decreases healing, slows recovery and has been demonstrated to increase the risk of local infection around the wounds as well as general types of infection such as chest infections.

So what can you do?

First, be aware that smoking in general only has negative impacts on health and stopping smoking only has benefits: better for your health, better for your families health, better for your financial help (remember it is very expensive to smoke – in every sense).  If you are a smoker, enlist support to quit smoking and use the programs available through government sites that are available for you to give up cigarettes, such as:

www.quitnow.gov.au and www.icanquit.com.au

So on World No Tobacco day this May 31, make a plan to Quit for good – for your health and for the health of those around you.