Tobacco industry: Killing you softly

ANKARA (AA): More than 8 million people died of tobacco in 2018 and another million due to second-hand smoke exposure, said the World Health Organization (WHO) in its latest report. It advised smokers to think twice before lighting a cigarette on World No Tobacco Day marked on May 31 every year.

Factories produce 6 trillion cigarettes a year, professorMucahitOzturk, president of anti-addiction group Turkish Green Crescent, also known as Yesilay, told Anadolu Agency. Tobacco has 4,000 toxic ingredients that are killing you softly over time, he added. The tobacco industry is the brains and money behind the tobacco epidemic wreaking havoc across the world, where 1.2 billion people are smokers and one out of two children are exposed to second-hand smoke, the WHO said.

The industry, as if it is a broccoli producer, has gone to great lengths to advertise their products as health-friendly with misleading ad campaigns. It was only a few decades ago that the tobacco giants advertised their products with words like “… as pure as the water you drink”, “scientifically purer”, “[…] can literally relieve fatigue and irritability”. Another brand promised weight loss to women, in an attempt to pull the wool over their eyes. “Overweight? Lose weight without pills or diet with ….”

It was such an aggressive and unregulated era that thousands of “scientists” recommended smoking cigarettes for their numerous “health benefits”. On top of this tragicomic way of doing business, they used a myriad of marketing tactics to create a positive public image such as injecting big bucks into philanthropic social responsibility programs. Although the anti-tobacco camp won numerous battles over the years in slowing down the growth of this cancerous industry, the Big Tobacco is still winning the war.

For example, point-of-sale locations such as the convenience stores, gas stations, grocery stores and pharmacies are where the top tobacco companies spend 96% of their $8.49 billion cigarette marketing budget in the US, according to D.C-based non-profit health organization Truth Initiative. Point-of-sale marketing enables tobacco companies to carry on their disastrous campaign to hook billions across the world.

The WHO helped governments unanimously adopt a resolution at the turn of the century calling for transparency in controlling the tobacco epidemic. Governments agreed to be “…alert to any efforts by the tobacco industry to undermine or subvert tobacco control efforts and the need to be informed of the activities of the tobacco industry that have a negative impact on tobacco control efforts..”

Turkey is one of the leaders in fighting tobacco addiction with President RecepTayyipErdogan leading by example. He has a habit of talking smokers into quitting and once they agree, taking their cigarette packs. In September 2016, he convinced then-Bulgarian Foreign Minister Daniel Mitov to quit smoking at the NATO Summit in Poland’s capital.

The Turkish Health Ministry has developed a mobile application, dubbed as “Green Detector”. It allows people to instantly alert authorities of businesses defying the indoor no-smoking policy. “More than 273,000 people have downloaded the app and nearly 150,000 people have notified the Health Ministry so far,” Ozturk said. He warned youngsters against the use of e-cigarettes which he said are “as harmful as cigarette, hookah and pipe”.

NebiMismis, a supervisor in a busy cafe in the Cebeci district of capital Ankara said the Green Detector is “really unforgiving”. He said his cafe had paid fines at least four times and even closed down for a week. Dilek Akin, a former smoker, thinks she wasted 25 years of her life. “A group of friends influenced me to smoke before I turned 20. Later, I decided to quit and received professional help,” she said, adding that smoking is a very expensive habit.

BeyzaNur, 17, started smoking when she was only 13. Her ill mom was a heavy smoker and she hated that. She thought if she starts smoking, her mom would quit to lead by example. Now they are both chain smokers. Bedirhan, 24, has been smoking for the last 12 years. He wants some motivation. “How does quitting affect my quality of life and health in 1-2-3 years, this is what I want to know,” he said.

Murat Altuntecim, a retired police officer, had been a smoker for 15 years. “Stressful job, extreme fatigue, demanding work conditions, an environment where almost everybody smokes, I couldn’t resist,” he said. One night after smoking four packs, he says he hated himself and decided to quit. But he continued carrying a lighter five years after he quit. “When I got rid of that lighter, I realized that I had really quit,” he said. He added that scaring smokers does not work; rather motivating them does. “There should be conversation groups,” he said. “I understand you, I was a smoker too, but once you get rid of this habit, the end of this process is really cool,” should be the mentality of counsellors he said. “That feeling of spiritual, physical and medical purification, it is so worth it,” he said.