World Cancer Day: Taking Control of Tobacco

This World Cancer Day, the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) – which leads the charge on the initiative – is working to debunk global cancer myths. UICC is focusing on four myths in particular:

  • Myth 1: We don't need to talk about cancer
  • Myth 2: There are no signs or symptoms of cancer
  • Myth 3: There is nothing I can do about cancer
  • Myth 4: I don't have the right to cancer care

Myth 3, “There is nothing I can do about cancer,” is one in particular that American Cancer Society researcher Evan Blecher, Ph.D., has a lot to say about. He knows, through his work as part of the Society’s International Tobacco Control Research Program, that this is far from the truth. While there are many important ways that citizens of every country can stay healthy and get screened to help protect against cancer, avoiding tobacco is one of the most important – and challenging – strategies to reduce cancer globally.

With about 2 in 10 people worldwide who smoke, Blecher explains what more needs to be done to reduce tobacco use and what challenges lie ahead.

Q. What percentage of cancer deaths worldwide is attributable to tobacco use?

A. About 22% of worldwide cancer deaths are attributable to tobacco use; however, in the United States this number is significantly higher (30%). And for specific cancers like lung cancer, between 80% (for women) and 90% (for men) are related to smoking.

Q. In certain developed nations, like the United States, it is well known that smoking can cause cancer, but what about in developing countries – is this something that people know?

A. The dangers of smokers are indeed well known in the United States, although many young people do not understand the dangers well when they begin to smoke. Globally, people underestimate the dangers of smoking and in the developing world, knowledge about the dangers of smoking is less understood.

Q. Which countries are struggling most with tobacco control right now, and why?

A. Many developing nations in Africa and Asia are struggling to develop and implement comprehensive tobacco control strategies because of interference from the tobacco industry. Even developed nations like Australia are under intense pressure from the tobacco industry, which is challenging tobacco control policies in courts.

Q. What are the most impactful ways that leaders can help reduce tobacco use in their countries?

A. 177 nations have ratified the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), which provides countries with an evidence-based model for comprehensive tobacco control strategies including reducing the affordability of tobacco products through tax increases, banning the advertising and promotion of tobacco products, and protecting the population from the harms of second-hand smoke.

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