Smoking is a global public health concern affecting individuals, families, and societies. People are aware of the health risks, yet quitting remains a significant challenge for many. The reasons behind this resistance to quitting are multifaceted, encompassing physical, psychological, and social factors.
Central to the reasons people continue to smoke is the physical addiction to nicotine. This highly addictive substance in tobacco prompts the brain to release dopamine, eliciting feelings of pleasure and reward. Over time, the brain becomes reliant on these dopamine surges. Consequently, a decrease in nicotine intake can trigger withdrawal symptoms, such as irritability, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, and increased appetite.
Beyond the physical addiction lies psychological dependence. Many smokers have incorporated the act into their daily routines. These routines, be it a morning cup of coffee or a work break, can trigger intense cravings. Moreover, smoking often serves as a coping mechanism for stress, anxiety, or other negative emotions, making cessation even more challenging.
The societal landscape also plays a pivotal role. In various communities, smoking is either socially acceptable or encouraged, amplifying the challenge of quitting. Peer pressure can not only induce individuals to start but can also deter them from stopping. Moreover, the mere presence of fellow smokers can reignite cravings and derail efforts to quit.
Turning our attention to Pakistan, the situation seems particularly dire. As per data from ‘The Nation’, there’s been an uptick in the number of smokers. Alarmingly, over 7% of women identify as daily smokers. Furthermore, a report by the Pakistan Tobacco Board unveils that a staggering 72% of women in Pakistan are smokers. This elevated prevalence, especially among women, points towards deep-rooted, multifaceted barriers to quitting.
The health ramifications of smoking are extensive. From lung cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), to respiratory infections – the list is exhaustive.
Furthermore, the World Health Organization has disclosed that an estimated 166,000 deaths in Pakistan annually can be attributed to tobacco use. Of particular concern for women are the adverse effects on reproductive health, manifesting in fertility challenges, pregnancy complications, and developmental issues in newborns.
Such health complications not only impact the smoker but reverberate through their families and society at large. The mounting smoking-related health issues exert undue pressure on Pakistan’s healthcare infrastructure, subsequently elevating healthcare costs across the board.
Smoke-Free Alternatives: A Ray of Hope?
Smoke-free alternatives, unlike tobacco-burning cigarettes, do not rely on combustion. Because it works by heating tobacco, it drastically reduces the levels of high-risk and harmful chemicals, as well as exposure to some of the leading causes of smoking-related diseases.
E-cigarettes and nicotine pouches have gained popularity as smoke-free alternatives to traditional cigarettes. While there is limited evidence of their long-term effects, some studies suggest they may be less harmful than smoking cigarettes.
Overall, prevalence statistics and epidemiological data indicate that the use of snus confers a significant harm reduction benefit which is reflected in the comparatively low levels of tobacco-related disease in Sweden when compared with the rest of Europe.
A study published in the journal “Nicotine & Tobacco Research” found that smoke-free alternatives could help to reduce smoking-related deaths by up to 10 times. The study, which used data from the World Health Organization, found that if all smokers switched to smoke-free alternatives, there would be 8 million fewer smoking-related deaths per year.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is strong evidence that smoke-free policies reduce tobacco use among youth.
To address this looming health crisis, especially with the unprecedented numbers of women, there’s an unequivocal call for more robust tobacco control interventions in Pakistan. Implementing stricter regulations, escalating taxes, and enforcing bans on all forms of tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship are steps in the right direction. Simultaneously, public awareness campaigns on smoking’s dangers and support systems for those endeavoring to quit are of paramount importance.
While smoking is a bad habit with severe health consequences, it is important to acknowledge that there are alternatives available to help quit. With the right support and resources, it is possible to overcome the addiction and lead a healthier, smoke-free life.