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Tobacco & Smoking

Tobacco is the deadliest preventable cause of disease. The WHO has recognized 70 carcinogens within the more than 7000 toxic chemicals that can be found in tobacco smoke. Active tobacco consumption and passive exposure to tobacco smoke is responsible for 7.2 million deaths every year. This exceeds the total amount of deaths caused by AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined.

In Europe, tobacco consumption is the most prevalent cause of death, responsible for around 16 % of all deaths in adults over 30 years old. The European Union and its Member States have adopted different tobacco control measures to ensure that all consumers are equally protected from smoking.   

Tobacco consumption leads to disease

Smoking causes a great deal of respiratory diseases, like asthma, COPD, pneumonia, and tuberculosis.  But also non-respiratory diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and cancer can be caused by tobacco consumption. For people already living with allergy and airways diseases, smoking is even exacerbating the situation. Exclusion from social life and work as well as unnecessary illness may be consequences.

Tobacco smoking in short:

  • Smoking with asthma is associated with a higher degree of asthma severity, worsening of symptoms, increased hospital admissions, accelerated decline in lung function, limited short-term responses to medicines and poorer asthma control
  • Research shows that is a major factor in provoking allergic responses for babies and young children
  • Smoking is the main cause of COPD, which is on the contrary the leading cause of death from tobacco smoking. Around half of all life-long smokers will develop COPD, with woman having more symptoms than men for the same amount of pack-years smoked
  • Parental smoking during pregnancy is widespread. Being harmful for the child, smoking during pregnancy is associated with low birth weight, foetal deaths and preterm delivery with reduced lung function

Second-hand tobacco smoke also kills

Tobacco is not only dangerous for the ones who smoke. People being exposed to tobacco smoke also experience harmful effects on health: Second-hand smoke causes an estimated 884,000 yearly premature deaths worldwide and the loss of 6.4 million healthy life years due to the diseases it provokes to children and non-smokers.

Smoke can linger in a room for up to 2½ hours on carpets, furnishings and walls. These materials absorb the toxins found in tobacco smoke and gradually release them back into the air. There is no safe level of exposure to second-hand smoke. However, in 2017 around a quarter of EU citizens were exposed to tobacco smoke at work and public spaces, and still, many bars and restaurants in the EU allow tobacco smoking.

About 75% of European children are regularly exposed to second-hand smoke at home, the highest number in global comparison.

  • increases a baby’s sensitivity to allergens;
  • increases the risk of lung disease;
  • during childhood, it causes wheezing symptoms asthma;
  • increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome

Tobacco remains a legal substance, but we should all be protected

Nicotine dependency is the major driver for people to continue smoking. According to the WHO, nicotine dependency is characterised as a strong internal drive to use it without proper control of the usage, also tolerating nicotine’s harmful and negative consequences.

In the EU, 54 % of persons currently smoking have attempted to quit, at least once in their smoking career. However, due to psychobiological impacts and strong nicotine withdrawal syndromes, successful cessation is rare. Although, non-smoking devices like nicotine-patches might help to overcome tobacco-smoking habits, nicotine dependency as the main driver for tobacco use is not tackled at all by such products.

In Europe, 24 % of the citizen can be considered as daily smokers, consuming on average 14 cigarettes a day. However, in particular, smokers who started before the age of 18 are likely to smoke more than 20 cigarettes every day. This number needs to be considered, regarding that the majority of smokers in the EU (52%) begins to smoke before the age of 18 years.

While consumption of oral, smokeless tobacco products’ like chewing tobacco or the Swedish ‘Snus’ has decreased in the EU, new products are now commercialised. Such new devices are marketed as E-cigarettes (they heat liquids which may or may not contain nicotine to be inhaled) and heated tobacco products (they warm tobacco up producing nicotine-infused vapour).

Yet, none of the devices has undergone sufficient scientific examination allowing to determine its impacts on health or its potential to increase chances for successful smoking cessation. Regardless of whether consumed as a cigarette or an electronic device, tobacco is toxic and harms human health.

Measures for Tobacco control and Smoking Prevention

The European Union and its Member States have adopted different tobacco control measures to ensure that all consumers are equally protected from smoking. The following policy measures are of application across the EU:

Asthma, allergy and COPD patients need to be protected from tobacco smoke and consumption. As patients representatives at EFA we advocate for:

  • Conversion of all public places across the EU into smoke-free areas (including parks and playgrounds);
  • Adoption of stricter tobacco control policies, including plain tobacco packaging in all European countries;
  • Clearer regulations on selling and consumption of electronic cigarettes;
  • Higher investments on quitting campaigns and support programmes for ex-smokers.

Our advocacy activities on tobacco and smoking are strengthened by the long-standing collaboration with the European Network for Smoking and Tobacco Prevention (ENSP), of which we are an associated member.