The urgent fight against tobacco industry greed, and the harmful impact of smoke

Conference News 24 Oct 2020

The fourth and final plenary of the 51st Union World Conference looked at the major contributors to lung health issues and the need to address these effectively, to protect the health of all people, but in particular the most vulnerable.

Watch the plenary recording now.

Jorgen Vestbo, Professor of Respiratory Medicine at the Division of Infection Immunity and Respiratory Medicine from the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Manchester, and Respiratory Theme Lead for the NIHR Manchester Biomedical Research Centre, spoke about the harmful impact of the tobacco industry and the new generation of tobacco and nicotine products, focusing on e-cigarettes.

Vestbo began his talk by saying smoking is on the decline, the younger generation no longer considers it attractive, leaving tobacco companies looking for other ways to make money by making alternative products to make people nicotine-addicted, with e-cigarettes being one such product.

He said that while tobacco companies present e-cigarettes as an alternative product for smokers, they are actually a new way to get people nicotine addicted.

Speaking on the respiratory health effects of e-cigarettes, Vestbo said that whereas the focus has been on the acute effects as a respiratory health physician, he is much more concerned with the long-term health effects.

“Looking at research on the development of two of the enzymes, which cause emphysema, comparing non-smokers, smokers and vapers, it is hard to believe that vaping is so much better than smoking.”

“We are noticing the beginning of a vaping induced epidemic”, he stressed, in closing, “In fighting the tobacco epidemic, e-cigarettes are not part of the solution – they are part of the problem.”

Fay Johnston, Head of the Environmental Health Research Group for the Menzies Institute for Medical research at the University of Tasmania and Deputy Director of Public Health for the Tasmanian Department of Health, Australia, spoke on the determinants on health from fires affecting natural landscapes.

Speaking on the fact combustion with fires is never 100 percent efficient, meaning that with landscape fires, in particular, you have many products of incomplete combustion. These are the products, which drive the negative health impacts.

Literature emerging on the acute impacts for lungs from smoke caused by landscape fires, show particulate matter impact (PM2.5) that comes from landscape fire smoke compared with PM2.5 from other emissions looks to show greater health impacts.

Finishing with some reflections on greed and smoke, Johnson highlighted that whereas fires are shaped by nature phenonium, they are also shaped by human activity. People living in wealthy and industrialised nations can have a direct impact on landscape fires, through activities including land clearance and deforestation and industrialisation. Until recently higher-income countries have been spared serious impacts but this is changing as shown from increasing forest fires and climate related disasters in Australia, Europe, Canada and the US.

“The global picture is worsening. The common good is the same as personal good. The time for action is now,” said Johnston in a poignant closing remark.

The third and final speaker, Elvis Ndikum Achiri, Civic Leader and President Association for the Promotion of Youth Leadership, Advocacy and Volunteerism, in Cameroon, spoke on the personal cost of outdoor and household air pollution focusing on low and low-middle income countries.

Overwhelmingly, children are most impacted, often from birth, by both outdoor and indoor air pollution. A key limitation comes despite some countries government initiatives to introduce alternatives, as price a major factor for families swapping to the more environmentally friendly option.

“Solutions to combat air pollution are necessary, given that air pollution is a silent and slow killer, governments need to take air pollution as a serious issue, given that there are laws in countries but they are rarely respected,” said Achiri in closing, calling for governments and the World Health Organization to adopt a Global Fund for Air Pollution and Health.

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