independent

Tuesday 21 May 2019

19 people die from smoking illness every day

7,000 people die from smoking related diseases in Ireland each year according to figures from the Department of Health. That's 583 a month or 135 a week or 19 a day.

19 people a day. Every day.

Often we read figures without putting any significance on them but 19 people a day is a chilling statistic. Even more so when you consider than many, many of those deaths are preventable - simply by giving up smoking. In fact smoking is the single most important preventable cause of illness and death.

Recent data from European Union Statistics of Income and Living Conditions (EU-SILC) shows that deaths from tobacco-related diseases in Ireland are 9 per cent higher than the European average.

Figures from the Department of Health show that 90 per cent of lung cancers in Ireland are caused by smoking and 50 per cent of all smokers will die from smoking related diseases. On average the life expectancy of a smoker is between 10 to 15 years less than a non smoker.

The Department of Health say that smokers have an increased risk of cancer, heart disease, strokes, low birth weight and many other diseases.

And although smoking is a personal choice it affects the health of those around you. A non smoker living with a smoker has a 25 per cent increased risk of lung cancer and a 30 per cent increased risk of heart disease. Passive smoke exposure increases the risk of stroke by 82 per cent and standing in the path of a smoker or their cigarette or being in a room where there are smokers means being exposed to at least 50 agents known to cause cancer and other chemicals which increase blood pressure, damage the lungs and cause abnormal kidney function.

Some people who smoke only occasionally believe that they are not harming their health.

Exposure to cigarette smoke is always dangerous whether you are a social smoker or whether you only smoke tobacco when making a homemade cannabis joint.

If you only smoke one cigarette a day you are still 30 per cent more likely to develop coronary heart disease compared to a non smoker. Similarly although cannabis smokers tend to smoke less than tobacco smokers they usually inhale more deeply and hold the smoke in their lungs for longer. Some research estimates that smoking four joints may be as damaging to the lungs as smoking 20 cigarettes.

Data from other countries and the World Health Organisation (WHO) says that in developed countries between 5 to 15 per cent of the total health budget is spent on treating tobacco related disease. In Ireland this equates to between €1 billion and €2 billion per year.

Recent Irish data shows an average cost of €7,700 every time a smoker is admitted to hospital with a tobacco related disease.

In 2008 there were over 36,000 such admissions to hospital and that cost doesn't include outpatient costs, GP visits, medicines and other supports provided by the HSE.

The QUIT campaign which costs €840,000 in 2011 is a major preventative health education priority for the HSE and if it prevents just 100 of the annual 36,000 hospital admissions with tobacco related disease the campaign will pay for itself.

Last Wednesday, Ash Wednesday, was National No Smoking Day, and in advance of that the Irish Heart Foundation (IHF) said that greater investment in smoking cessation services is urgently needed as currently well over 100 times more is being spent treating smoking related illnesses rather than helping smokers to quit.

IHF Head of Advocacy, Chris Macey said that by putting more resources into quit services, the Government could significantly reduce the daily death toll from tobacco-related illness and the rate of 36,000 smokers who are admitted to hospital each year with tobacco related illness, whilst also saving money on a huge scale.

At present illness caused by tobacco costs the State up to €2 billion a year - that's €2,000 for every smoker in the country. But estimates suggest that an average of less than €15 annually is spent helping each of Ireland's one million smokers to quit. The vast majority of this goes towards medications, whilst community cessation services are inadequate in many parts of the country.

'It's clear that not enough is being done to help smokers quit,' said Mr Macey. 'We know that support services such as cessation clinics, quitlines and medications double a person's chances of giving up smoking for good.

'We also know that 80 per cent of Irish smokers want to quit. Unfortunately, most are left to go it alone when they try and that means they are more likely to fail. What we need in particular is an acceptance that smoking cessation services are frontline health services and that frontline staff, including primary care teams and GPs, have training in brief interventions and then can link in to specialist smoking cessation in the community.'

Recent Eurobarometer research showed that a third of smokers - over 300,000 people tried to quit in the previous 12 months. For 44 per cent the quit attempt lasted less than a week and 30 per cent more resumed smoking between one week and two months. Just 23 per cent were still tobacco free after two months.

Dr Angie Brown Medical director of the Irish Heart Foundation said: 'Everyone who has tried to quit smoking knows how difficult it is. Nicotine is a highly addictive product; smokers should not be left to fight their addiction alone. In many parts of the country they have been abandoned because of underfunding that has resulted in quit services that are not functioning effectively.

'The HSE mantra since Ireland's economic collapse has been about saving lives and money. There are few areas of our health service that could come close to smoking cessation in achieving this dual aim.'

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