Quit smoking and reap the mental, physical, financial and environmental benefits © Freepik

Quit, and get fit!
To celebrate World No Tobacco Day on 31 May, read how a smoking-free life could change your life
1 May 2024

To your knowledge, which of these statements is true?

• Tobacco kills up to half of its users.

• Around 1.2 million deaths a year are the result of non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke.

• Every year the tobacco industry costs the world more than 600 million trees, 200,000 hectares of land, 22 billion tons of water and 84 million tons of CO2.

In fact, all these statements, published by the WHO, are true.

The tobacco epidemic is one of the biggest public health threats the world has ever faced, killing more than 8 million people a year around the world. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death among smokers, followed by lung cancer, then respiratory tract diseases and other types of cancer almost anywhere in the body from mouth to bladder cancer. In the most developed countries, smokers have mortality rates 2–3 times higher than non-smokers and live on average 6–10 years less.

Although cigarettes are the most widespread form of smoking in the world, all forms of tobacco are harmful. However, the health risks associated with the use of other tobacco products are often less well known to users.

For example, chewing tobacco, snuff, electronic cigarettes, etc., are highly addictive and contain many carcinogenic toxins. Using them increases the risk of brain cancer, neck, throat, esophagus, and oral cavity (including cancer of the mouth, tongue, lips, and gums), as well as various dental diseases. Another example is the use of water pipe tobacco, which damages health in the same way as cigarettes. One thing is certain: there is no safe level of exposure to tobacco.

Passive smoking

Safety and risks also apply to second-hand smokers. Passive smoking is a cause of serious cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, including coronary heart disease and lung cancer.

Even brief, repeated exposure can cause serious damage. Scientific studies show that pollution levels in indoor smoking areas are higher than those found on busy roads, enclosed motor garages, or during fire storms. In newborns exposed in utero, there is an increased risk of premature birth and low birth weight. For babies exposed after birth, the risk of sudden infant death syndrome is doubled.

Environmental impact 

If tobacco control is a major public health issue for governments, it is also an environmental issue.

It is obvious that tobacco smoke contributes to higher air pollution. It is also clear that cigarette butts, which take approximately 10 years to decompose, generate an extremely large volume of waste and chemical emissions. It is less easy 

to realize the extent to which tobacco growing and the manufacture and delivery of tobacco products are the source of significant environmental problems such as deforestation, overconsumption of water, intensive use of agrochemicals and fertilizers, soil erosion, desertification, use of fossil fuels leading to greenhouse gas emissions and dumping of waste into the natural environment.

So, ready to quit?

Whether it is for your own health, that of your loved ones or out of concern for the environment, there are many reasons to quit!

Health benefits of quitting smoking are almost immediate, for example, 20 minutes after quitting smoking, your heart rate improves. Within 1-9 months, coughing and shortness of breath decrease. Within 5-15 years, your stroke risk is reduced to that of a non-smoker. Within 10 years, your lung cancer death rate is about half that of a smoker. Within 15 years, your risk of heart disease is the same as a non-smoker.

Despite the knowledge of all these benefits, quitting is still challenging, because nicotine is an addictive substance, and it is not easy to change habits.

Fortunately, you are not on your own! It is proven that counseling and medication can more than double your chance of quitting smoking. To provide UN employees who want to quit smoking with the necessary assistance to do so, the Occupational Health Service of UNOG has decided to offer individual consultations with one of its nurses trained in tobacco cessation assistance since January 2024. Based on the assessment carried out during the first consultation, the nurse designs a personalized quit plan that considers your smoking habits, degree of nicotine dependence, craving symptoms and fears. The plan and follow-up are tailored to your needs, ranging from the simple counseling and support to the recommendation and monitoring of Nicotine Replacement Therapy. 

In addition to these ongoing consultations at the UNOG Medical Service, you can also seek further assistance from a Geneva-based non-profit tobacco prevention organization named CIPRET (Centre d’Information et de Prévention du Tabagisme). The specialists from CIPRET – Geneva offer the opportunity to take part in a free stop-smoking support group. This program consists of 10 meetings at their office and is conducted in collaboration with dieticians from ADiGe (Geneva dieticians’ branch). 

More information is available online on the CIPRET website:

* Naina Marie Montant is a smoking cessation trained UNOG Nurse and Elizabeth Kubbinga is a Registered Occupational Health Physician at UNOG.
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