Tobacco and Cancer

Tobacco is one of the significant threats to public health. Each year, it kills more than 8 million people, including about 1.2 million who die from second-hand smoke.

Cigarette smoking habit – Image by freepik
Vaping device – Image by freepik

Tobacco products include cigars, roll-your-own, waterpipe, and vape. All forms of tobacco are bad for health. There is no safe level of exposure to tobacco. Toxins in tobacco can weaken the body’s immune system, making it harder to kill cancer cells. When this happens, the growth of cancer cells can’t be stopped.

Tobacco smoke contains poisons that can damage or change a cell’s DNA. DNA is the “instruction manual” of a cell. It controls how a cell grows and works. When DNA is broken, a cell can start to grow out of control, which can lead to cancer.

Tobacco is the leading cause of lung cancer. Nearly nine out of ten lung cancer deaths are caused by smoking tobacco or second-hand smoke exposure. In Malaysia, lung cancer is the third most common cancer followed by breast and colorectal cancer. Each year there are about 3,000 newly detected lung cancers in Malaysia. More than 90% of lung cancer were diagnosed at a very late stage (III and IV) in both sexes.

One of the most common causes of smoking is coughing – Image by freepik
Informative illustration of lung cancer – Image by freepik

Other than lung cancer, cancer can happen almost anywhere in your body if you smoke. Cancers caused by tobacco include those of the colon, mouth, nose and sinuses, pharynx (upper throat), larynx (voice box), oesophagus (food pipe), pancreas, liver, stomach, kidney, breast, ovary, bladder, prostate, and leukaemia.

Over 80% of the 1.3 billion tobacco users live in low- and middle-income countries, including Malaysia. Tobacco use makes people poor because it diverse money away from basic needs like food and shelter and gives it to tobacco.

The economic costs of tobacco are high, including a lot of money spent on health care to treat diseases caused by tobacco. Tobacco cost the economy a total of US$1436 billion in 2016, equal to 1.8 per cent of the world’s annual gross domestic product (GDP). Almost 40% of this cost is in developing countries, which shows how much these countries have to bear.

The Malaysian government and the private sector each spend between RM7 billion and RM8 billion per year to treat tobacco-related illnesses like lung cancer. This brings the total cost to about RM16 billion per year for the cost of treating patients.

Tobacco imposes a heavy economic burden globally, particularly in developing countries. Governments need to undertake more strict tobacco control policies to reduce these costs.

According to our Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin, the Tobacco and Smoking Products Control Bill 2022 intends to establish a Generational End-Game (GEG) for non-smokers born on or after January 1, 2007. The core of the Bill is to prohibit anybody born after January 1, 2007, from purchasing cigarettes and other tobacco and vaping products. If implemented properly, it can save billions of ringgits on health expenditure and minimize the need to treat tobacco-related illnesses.

We all want to live healthier and longer life. Please leave tobacco away, save your money for doctors in future, and no tobacco for the next generation!

This write-up was prepared by Dr Soh Yih Harng (DrPH candidate), Professor Dr Moy Foong Ming from the Department of Social and Preventive Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, Universiti Malaya, and Dr Feisul Idzwan Bin Mustapha, Deputy Director (NCD), Disease Control Division, Ministry of Health Malaysia.

This write-up is also published in the CodeBlue, The Sun Daily, My Sin Chew, and Sin Chew Daily (Mandarin).

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