Cigarettes or food?
ACCORDING TO the World Health Organisation (WHO) the rich are curtailing their use of tobacco and the poor (especially in developing countries), are spending more of their income on smoking.
The WHO study, summarised in the Health section of Wednesday's Gleaner, marked the worldwide observation of 'No Tobacco Day' under the theme, "Tobacco and Poverty: a vicious circle". With smoking more prevalent in the lower demographic sector of populations than at the upper end of the scale, greater numbers of poor people are exposed to the dangers of cigarette smoking. These include lung cancer, emphysema and cardiovascular diseases. Across the world, some 5.7 billion cigarettes are smoked each year and 75 per cent of nicotine addicts live in developing countries like Jamaica.
Here in Jamaica casual observation suggests that fewer people may be using tobacco, but there is no recent in-depth study to support that observation or to indicate if the WHO trends also apply here. Healthy profits shown by the local tobacco company do not necessarily reflect an increase.
Anti-smoking campaigns have been successful in several high-income countries like the United States, Canada, and Great Britain. But the use of tobacco products continues to grow in countries like India, China and Russia. The poor with limited disposable income often have to make a choice between buying cigarettes and food. According to WHO, in Bangladesh, the poor spend almost 10 times as much on tobacco as on education. If this money was spent on food some 10.5 million currently malnourished people in that country would have an adequate diet.
While there are heavy 'sin' taxes on cigarettes locally to help finance the National Health Fund, we need an effective anti-smoking campaign to save our people, especially the young, from the devastating diseases caused by smoking, the cost of which has to be paid for by the State and which adversely affects the productivity of the workforce. A 2001 survey done by the National Council on Drug Abuse showed that more men than women use tobacco, the consumption of which rises significantly with age, rising to 19 per cent of the 35 to 55 age group.
Were a Martian to visit Planet Earth for the first time, it would not take him long to understand how and why earthlings eat food. But to see grown men and women, for no apparent reason, put a small white cylinder between their lips, light it, suck in smoke and blow it out again, would be very puzzling indeed. For the overall health of the nation we hope that continuing efforts to reduce the incidence of tobacco use will be successful.