1.1 billion smokers remain worldwide on ‘World No-Smoking Day’

Science and Health

Since 2020, there has been no decline from 20 percent of those over 15 in the number of Israeli smokers – in fact, there has been a significant increase in the number of teens and even younger children who vape using electronic cigarettes. When broken down by gender, 27.3% of men and 12.6% of women in Israel smoke.

This was announced by the Israel Cancer Association (ICA) on the eve of World No-Smoking Day, which has been observed annually on May 31 since it was inaugurated by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1984 to raise awareness about the hazardous health effects of tobacco and advocate for effective government policies to reduce its use worldwide. 

There are 1.1 billion smokers worldwide, causing more than seven million deaths per year – higher than the toll of the COVID-19 pandemic since 2020. The WHO says that if the pattern of smoking all over the globe doesn’t change, more than eight million people a year will die from diseases related to tobacco use in 2030.

Among Arab countries, the highest smoking rates were in Libya and Jordan (80%), and Saudi Arabia (71 %). The highest smoking rates among males were in Egypt (61%), Jordan (56.9%-54.3%) and the Palestinian Authority (53%), for females the highest rate was in Yemen (28 %).

Smoking and its high mortality rates

Almost every hour, one Israeli dies as a result of diseases caused by active or passive smoking, which cause cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (emphysema and chronic bronchitis). Smoking also increases the risk of eye diseases, immune system problems, and rheumatoid arthritis. Smoking is also a known cause of impotence in men and fertility problems in women.

CIGARETTES ON display at a convenience store in Safed carry warnings that smoking causes cancer, heart disease, stroke and other harm to smokers and their children. (credit: David Cohen/Flash90)

Smoking is responsible for about 20% of all cancer deaths, and every year in Israel about 8,000 people die from smoking, said the ICA, which added that it’s very likely that in Israel too, about 9,000 people every year by 2030 if the epidemic is not stopped through awareness, detoxification, taxation, and legislation.

ICA director-general Moshe Bar-Haim noted that “with all the accumulated scientific knowledge about smoking, we would have expected the implementation of a budgeted national plan to prevent smoking in Israel and to decrease smoking rates. But unfortunately, tobacco companies, continue to [spread their toxic products]. We are very concerned about the significant rise among youngsters of e-cigs – a dangerous and addictive smoking product, which is a gateway to the world of smoking.

“We must act decisively to eradicate the phenomenon through an immediate ban on the sale of disposable electronic cigarettes and flavored smoking products.”

A new study published in the journal Chest found that long-term use of e-cigs harms the health of the heart and lungs. It encompassed 395 participants with variable smoking status, smokers of e-cigs only (over four years on average, average age 27.4), regular cigarette smokers only (over 21 years on average, age 42.8 on average) and a control group of non-smokers, aged 30.8 on average. 

They were asked to perform a 15-minute smoking test. E-cig users inhaled nine puffs and regular cigarette smokers inhaled 14. Before and immediately after the test, the blood pressure, heart rate, airflow and physiological functions of the participants were measured, and an exercise test using a treadmill was also conducted.

After the test, compared to the group of non-smokers, the cigarette smokers showed an increase of approximately six mm Hg in systolic blood pressure (the upper value), along with a significant increase in heart rate, a decrease in the volume of the arteries that leads to less good airflow and a decline in physical fitness in the treadmill test. The values observed among the e-cigarette smokers were similar to those of the regular cigarette smokers.

The researchers noted that the observed changes in cardiopulmonary functions probably depended not only on the nicotine in these electronic cigarettes but also on the many chemicals these products contain. 

“We must act decisively to eradicate the phenomenon through an immediate ban on the sale of disposable electronic cigarettes and flavored smoking products.”

Moshe Bar-Haim, ICA director-general

Another new study from California found that e-cigs damage the DNA in epithelial cells lining the oral cavity just like regular cigarettes. DNA damage causes a wide variety of tobacco-related diseases, including cancer.

It also found that e-cig smokers who tended to use sweet-flavored liquid had the highest level of damage to DNA, followed by those who used mint-flavored liquid and fruit-flavored liquid. 

“There is a misconception that e-cigarettes are harmless or cause reduced harm,” the researchers wrote, but our study provides compelling evidence against this notion. They are not only risk-free but also have DNA-damaging effects similar to those of regular cigarettes.” 

There is a relationship between smoking and cognitive decline in old age. Subjective cognitive decline is defined as the worsening of cognitive function in the 12 months preceding self-report of memory loss or confusion.

The data of 136,000 participants from 32 states in the US aged 45 and over from a follow-up survey of behavioral risk factors conducted in 2019 were scanned and the smoking status of the participants was evaluated.  About 10% of the participants suffered from subjective cognitive decline. In current smokers, subjective cognitive decline was 2.12 times higher compared to people who had never smoked. In those who recently quit smoking, the risk was 55% higher, and in those who quit in the distant past, the risk was 35% higher for subjective cognitive decline compared to people who had never smoked.