Man holds e-cigarette and regular cigarettes
Man holds e-cigarette and regular cigarettes iStock

On May 31, Israel will mark the World Health Organization's (WHO) World No Tobacco Day. This year, WHO is emphasizing the connection between smoking and lung health, including chronic respiratory infections and cancer, either as a result of passive or active smoking.

Around the world, a total of 165,000 children under age five die each year due to lower respiratory infections caused by passive smoking. Those who survive continue to suffer the effects of childhood exposure as adults and are at increased risk of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) in adulthood. As of 2019, smoking kills 8 million smokers annually, plus an additional million people who do not smoke themselves but are killed by secondhand smoke. In other words, smoking kills one person in the world every four seconds.

In Israel, where 59% of children are exposed to secondhand smoke, smoking-related illnesses kill 22 people each day, for a total of 8,000 people each year, 800 of whom were killed by others' smoking habits.

WHO aims to reduce smoking by 30% by the year 2025. Statistics from Prevent20, a global coalition of cancer groups, show that 20% of all deaths due to cancer are connected to cigarette smoke, and that smoking is the main cause of lung cancer among smokers, and responsible for two-thirds of all lung cancer cases around the world.

The global coalition was founded in order to influence governments to increase tax on smoking products, and its member organizations, including the Israel Cancer Association, aim to reduce the smoking phenomenon in order to prevent the millions of deaths from cancer each year which are connected to smoking.

According to the WHO, smoke can linger in the air for up to five hours after a smoker leaves the room, and it contains over 7,000 chemicals, including 69 known carcinogens.

Recently, there has been a significant rise in the number of youth smoking e-cigarettes, prompting the Israel Cancer Association to spearhead the first-ever Israeli campaign against them. The Israeli campaign is a trailblazer, preceded only by the the FDA and CDC's campaigns on the same subject.

The campaign focuses on educating youth about the dangers of e-cigarettes and the questions surrounding how safe they are for long-term use. It aims to impart the message that e-cigarettes are addictive, cast doubt on the mistaken belief that they are not dangerous, and impart the message that anyone who uses e-cigarettes essentially agrees to be the e-cigarette companies' guinea pig.

Research has also found that youth who smoke e-cigarettes or use other smoking devices end up smoking regular cigarettes at higher rates than their non-smoking peers.

In addition, a new poll found that 50% of Israeli youths who smoke are contemplating quitting due to the tax equality forced on outgoing Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon (Kulanu). A total of 84.4% of Israelis are in favor of placing graphic warnings on cigarette boxes.