Tobacco: What You Don't Know Can Kill You

18 June, 2018

From VOA Learning English, this is the Health & Lifestyle report.

It is widely known that smoking tobacco can damage the lungs. But many people do not know that it can also cause heart disease and stroke.

That information comes from World Health Organization (WHO) officials in Geneva, Switzerland. The WHO marked May 31 as World No Tobacco Day. The WHO's 2018 campaign focuses on the damage smoking does to the cardiovascular system.

Health experts at the WHO say that cardiovascular diseases (CVD) kill about 18 million people each year. Tobacco use and secondhand smoke exposure cause nearly 17% of all heart disease deaths. They add that tobacco use is the second leading cause of cardiovascular disease, after high blood pressure.

Douglas Bettcher is the director for the prevention of non-communicable diseases at the WHO. He says most people know that smoking increases the risk of lung diseases and cancer. However, studies show many of these same people do not know that tobacco use can also cause heart attacks and stroke.

"There are major gaps in the knowledge of cardiovascular disease risks of tobacco use. And in many countries, these knowledge gaps are very substantial. The percentage of adults who do not believe that smoking causes stroke are, for example, in China, as high as 73 percent. For heart attacks, for example, 61 percent of adults in China are not aware that smoking increases the risk."

Packs of cigarettes are offered for sale at a convenience store in Helena, Mont., on Thursday, May 18, 2017.
Packs of cigarettes are offered for sale at a convenience store in Helena, Mont., on Thursday, May 18, 2017.

Knowledge is power.

And, in this case, knowledge can save lives. The WHO project manager of tobacco control is Vinayak Prasad. He says that in some cases, the body can repair the damage caused by tobacco use.

"(If) smokers stop smoking, the risk from cardiovascular diseases actually is gone in 15 years. So, 15 years after quitting, the risk of CVDs is the same as if you have never smoked."

The U.N. health agency says more than 80 percent of tobacco smokers live in developing countries. It adds that the number of smokers in the developing world is increasing.

However, there is good news about smoking and tobacco use in some parts of the world. The WHO reports that tobacco use worldwide fell from 27 percent in 2000 to 20 percent in 2016. And it says the number of smokers has decreased in all areas except for the Middle East and Africa.

Reuters news agency reports that anti-smoking gains are losing ground a little in China, the world's most populous country.

Reuters notes that in 2015, the Chinese government announced a series of measures that were part of the WHO's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. The measures included a tax increase on tobacco products, written health warnings on cigarettes, limits on advertising and banning smoking in some public places.

Thanks to the government's actions, tobacco sales nationwide dropped for the first time since 2000. China's state media reports that in 2016 after officials in Beijing banned smoking in public places, tobacco sales dropped eight percent.

However, a public smoking ban recently failed in another of China's cities.

Hangzhou is a popular city for travelers. It is also home to Alibaba, the large internet business. Smokers in Hangzhou can still light up in some public spaces, such as train and bus stations as well as drinking establishments and karaoke clubs.

Reuters adds that the China National Tobacco Corporation led local opposition to a general, widespread ban on public smoking. The state-operated company is responsible for about seven to 11 percent of China's taxes.

And sales are rising. Reuters also reports that in 2017, China Tobacco sold 0.8 percent more cigarettes than the year before.

Experts at the WHO claim that, what they call, the "global tobacco epidemic" kills more than 7 million people each year. They add that close to 900,000 are non-smokers who die from breathing second-hand smoke.

And that's the Health & Lifestyle report. I'm Anna Matteo.

Lisa Schlein reported this story from Geneva for VOANews. Anna Matteo adapted her report for Learning English. The editor was George Grow. ________________________________________________________________

Words in This Story

premature adj. happening, arriving, existing, or performed before the proper, usual, or intended time

cardiovascular adj. of, relating to, or involving the heart and blood vessels

secondhand smoken. tobacco smoke that is exhaled by smokers or is given off by burning tobacco and is inhaled by persons nearby

exposuren. the fact or condition of being affected by something or experiencing something : the condition of being exposed to something

gap n. a missing part

quit v. to stop doing an action or activity

lose ground phrase. become less popular or to be given less support

convention n. a general agreement about basic principles or procedures

karaoke n. a form of entertainment in which a device plays the music of popular songs and people sing the words to the songs they choose : karaoke club n. a place where karaoke is performed

epidemic n. an outbreak of disease that spreads quickly and affects many individuals at the same time