Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Tobacco stats can take your breath away

Globally, tobacco kills 5 million people each year, about 8.8 percent of all deaths.

On January 11, 1964, U.S. Surgeon General Luther Terry issued an official warning that smoking cigarettes can kill you. The report “hit the nation like a bombshell,” Terry later recalled. “It was front page news and a lead story on every radio and television station in the United States and many abroad."

Nearly 50 years later, however, more than 45 million American adults still smoke, more than 8 million are living with a serious illness caused by smoking, and about 438,000 Americans die prematurely each year as a result of tobacco use, according to the CDC.

The anti-tobacco movement is just getting under way in much of the developing world. Globally, tobacco kills more than 5 million people each year, accounting for about 8.8 percent of all deaths, according to the Tobacco Atlas. If current trends continue, tobacco will kill 7 million people annually by 2020 and more than 8 million people by 2030, most of them in low- and middle-income countries. (The Tobacco Atlas is produced by the World Lung Foundation and the American Cancer Society.)

“Nicotine use is a complex addiction,” said Gregory Connolly, director of Harvard’s Center for Global Tobacco Control, during a recent health conference held at Emory. If you inject someone with nicotine, you can’t make them dependent on it the way you can with heroin or cocaine, he explains. Nicotine dependency is driven by a range of factors including ease of use, chemo-sensory cues, activation of the dopamine-reward pathway and learned behavior.

Treating individuals is helpful in the short-term, but policy measures that remove smoking from the social norm are better in the long-term, Connolly said.

“Kids do what adults do,” he said. “You really have to de-normalize the behavior and take away the social benefits.”

On January 1, Emory became a tobacco-free campus. Smoking and all other forms of tobacco use are now prohibited on all Emory University and Emory Healthcare properties. More than 580 U.S. colleges and more than 2,800 hospitals and health-care organizations have adopted similar policies.

At least on U.S. college campuses, smoking is become a harder habit to continue.

Striking up conversations about smoking

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