Banning cigarettes for life, a welcome move –Toxicologist  | Sunday Observer
Medi Snips: “No one should try their first cigarette, because it will not be the last”

Banning cigarettes for life, a welcome move –Toxicologist 

2 January, 2022

 New Zealand recently, in what has been described as one of the toughest approaches in the world to curb smoking deaths, said it would ban young people from buying cigarettes, for life, arguing that despite being one  of seventeen countries where plain cigarette packaging is compulsory and no one under 18  allowed to smoke, such  measures were not enough to reach its goal of a national adult smoking rate of less than five percent by 2025.

 The Sunday Observer spoke to Anti-smoking activist, Emeritus Professor of Forensic Medicine and Toxicology, Faculty of Medicine, University of Colombo, the Senior Professor of Forensic Medicine, General Sir John Kotelawala Defence University, Ratmalana and the former Chairman of the National Dangerous Drugs Control Board, Dr. Ravindra Fernando to share his comments on this lifetime cigarette ban for youth and whether a similar ban should be imposed on Sri Lankan youth as well.

 In reply he said, “This is a great and commendable step by the New Zealand Government and one that should be followed by all countries. The fact that it targets youth is especially welcome since studies have shown that many young people who smoke early also develop early non communicable diseases which in turn will carry them to an early grave”.

 On statistics quoted by the State’s Health authorities that since most adult smokers typically take up the habit of smoking during their youth, with four to five New Zealanders who smoke beginning by the age of 18, they hoped to avoid around 5,000 preventable deaths a year, Medi Snips asked Prof. Fernando how far these figures were similar among Lankan youth.

His response was that, “22.4 percent Sri Lankans smoke according to latest figures. Even though fewer men smoke on average in Sri Lanka than on average in high-HDI countries, there are still more than 1,660,900 men who smoke cigarettes each day, making it an ongoing and dire public health threat. (Human Development Index or HDI was created to emphasise that people and their capabilities should be the ultimate criteria for assessing the development of a country, not economic growth alone.)

 New Zealand health authorities have reportedly said that the move was also one of the world’s toughest crackdowns on the tobacco industry expected to slash the number of retailers authorised to sell tobacco and cut nicotine levels in all products making it an offence to sell or supply smoked tobacco products to new cohorts of youth  while “The New Zealand Herald” has been quoted that the state plans to make it illegal to sell cigarettes to anyone aged 14 and under from 2027  - a ban which will remain for the rest of the person’s life . Commending the lifetime ban,  Dr, Fernando said ,  “This decision will help to protect the health of the young in the country.”

 Asked to outline some of the harmful impacts on the body of inhaling the many toxic substances of cigarettes, drawing from his wide knowledge as a Toxicologist, he said, “Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) cause 80% of deaths annually. Nearly one in five people die from NCD. Tobacco use, unhealthy diet, alcohol use and physical inactivity are major risk factors of NCDs. Tobacco smoking can lead to lung cancer, chronic bronchitis, and emphysema. It increases the risk of heart disease, which can lead to stroke or heart attack. Smoking has also been linked to other cancers, leukemia, cataracts, type 2 diabetes and pneumonia.

It can cause lung disease by damaging your airways and the small air sacs (alveoli) found in your lungs. Smoking can lead to chronic bronchitis, and emphysema (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). Cigarette smoking causes most cases of lung cancer.

On suggestions by certain sections of the public that the sale of cigarettes should be relaxed at least for the festive season or beyond- now that the country is returning to normalcy, his view was “Smoking should be discouraged and prevented altogether. There should be a massive public education campaign among the community and in all schools with this goal in mind.”

As New Year celebrations have already begun, we asked what message he had especially for those who are tempted to experiment with their first cigarette for the fun of it or during this time of revelry.  His reply was emphatic. “No one should try their first cigarette, because it will not be the last!”