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Tobacco use a major risk factor for non-communicable diseases in Jamaica

Published:Wednesday | May 30, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Dr Tamu Davidson

It's a substance that kills more than half of its users, accounting for one in 10 adult deaths and killing more than seven million people globally each year. But despite its life-threatening and life-causing effect, tobacco use remains one of the severe risk factors for cardiovascular diseases (such as heart disease, heart failure, chest pains/angina and stroke) in Jamaica.

Today marks the 30th year since the World Health Assembly passed a resolution calling for the celebration of World No Tobacco Day to draw global attention to the tobacco epidemic and preventable death and disease it causes. This year, World No Tobacco Day will focus on the impact tobacco has on the cardiovascular health of people worldwide.

According to the director of non-communicable diseases at the Ministry of Health, Dr Tamu Davidson, six per cent of cardiovascular disease deaths in Jamaicans 30 years and older can be attributed to tobacco use. Additionally, 20 per cent of stroke deaths are attributed to tobacco use, while most of the deaths attributed to tobacco use occur in Jamaicans 45-49 years old.

"Many persons think that if you practise healthy lifestyles such as high levels of physical activity and healthy diet and smoke tobacco products, you won't be at risk for heart attack and stroke - this is not so. It is important to note that if you have had a heart attack you can cut your risk of having another one by up to 50 per cent if you stop smoking," Davidson stated.

Tobacco smoke contains 7,000 chemicals and chemical compounds that are poisonous to the body, and when inhaled they enter the lung and then the blood where it is transported all over the body. These chemicals damage the blood vessels and cause clotting and plaque build-up that can clog and narrow arteries. When this occurs, it can block blood flow to the heart and brain causing heart attack, stroke or sudden death.

"You do not have to be a heavy smoker or smoking for a long time to have a heart attack and stroke due to tobacco smoke. If you are a smoker and quit smoking, within one year your risk of heart attack falls and in two to three years your risk of stroke falls to the same as a non-smoker," Davidson said.

She further stated that even exposure to second-hand smoke can trigger a heart attack or stroke in non-smokers.


... Gov't provides support to persons trying to quit


In the last Global Student-based School Health Survey 2017, 65.6 per cent of students 13-15 years old reported that people smoked in their presence on one or more days. Women and children are most vulnerable and at risk from the health effects of second-hand smoke.

Although there is no single intervention that can reduce the risks to heart health by tobacco use, Jamaica continues to implement measures in keeping with best practice and treaty obligations: protection from tobacco smoke with the promulgation of the Public Health (Tobacco Control) Regulations 2013 and its 2014 amendments. These include a ban on smoking in indoor workplaces, public spaces and public transport, graphic health warnings on tobacco products, among other measures.

"We have also raised excise taxes on tobacco products, educated Jamaicans on the health effects of tobacco smoke with a focus on youth, provided support for persons that want to quit smoking through our health facilities," said Dr Tamu Davidson, the director of non-communicable diseases at the Ministry of Health.

These interventions they have done through partnership with government agencies, non-governmental groups, civil society, professional groups, faith-based groups, academia, the private sector, international partners and the wider support of all Jamaicans.