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The Path to a Smoke Free World

Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I know because I've done it thousands of times.”
Mark Twain

Growing up , I remember watching those tobacco adverts on television that ended with that "ironic" but scary WARNING, that stated clearly that tobacco smokers are liable to die young. At that time, like most people, I simply concluded that smoking would surely have harmful effects on the lungs which would ultimately lead to death.

As years went by however, "medical school happened" and I knew a lot better. I learnt and realized (some times after losing a chronic smoker and alcoholic to an advanced esophageal carcinoma) that the dangers of smoking were not restricted to the lungs and that it infact affected nearly every system in the human body! From increasing the risk of strokes to coronary artery diseases to lung diseases, lung cancers, the proven association with bladder, cervical, esophageal, pancreatic, blood, colon and a couple of other cancers and the obstetric and gynecological dangers (preterm births, stillbirths, low-birth weight, ectopic pregnancy e.t.c) , tobacco smoking seems to do it all, and I haven't even mentioned what it does to the sperm of men, the health of bones and the risk of cataracts! And as far as those tobacco adverts on Nigerian television back then are concerned, recent researches have indeed shown that smoking could singlehandedly shorten one's life by up to 14 years!

Cigarette smoking causes up to 480,000 deaths (human deaths!) per year in the United States! At least the United States has figures and a great healthcare system to go with that. I can't imagine what the figures are like in some other countries with less developed healthcare structures.

I recently came acroos an article on what we can best refer to as a "health-obsessed nation" where there is the world's lowest population of smokers according the the World Health Organization. The country, Turkmenistan, is an oil rich former Soviet republic with some unconventional methods but interesting achievements.

The country's "authoritharian" president, Berdymukhamedov, is a dentist by training who has been in power since the death of his eccentric predecessor, Niyazov in 2006. Niyazov, himself campaigned against smoking and built a 36km "path of health" into the mountains surrounding the nation's capital, Ashgabat which government officials were forced to walk.

Some months ago, the country with about 5 million people held a month of public exercises and sporting events under the slogan "health and happiness".

About 25 years ago, 27% of Turkmen over 15 and 1% of women smoked. A decade later Turkmenistan banned smoking in public places, state buildings and the army as well as all forms of tobacco advertising. Comparing that with 31.1% of the global male population over the age of 15 smoked in 2012 and 6.2% of women were smokers, a statistics that has probably worsened. Recently a WHO overview showed that only 8% of the Turkmenistan population smoke, and this is the lowest National indicator in world according to the World Health Organization's Director, Margaret Chan.

The question is , what will it take to have such success stories reproduced in many countries where tobacco smoking continues to account for huge morbidity and mortality. Perhaps the truth is that there are yet lessons to be learnt and imbibed from the isolated nation of Turkmenistan where fewer than one out of 12 people use tobacco if the world is serious about saving itself from the dangers of smoking.

Medic-ALL Inc Anniversary Special

Refs: World Health Organization, the Guardian, Centre for Disease Control and Prevention

See also ; Smoking: Breaking The Habit

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