Tobacco: What Do Consumers Know?
Tobacco: This theme is recurring but never redundant.
In Portugal, tobacco kills about 29 people a day, being in our country the main avoidable cause of death. In the world, it kills about 6 million people a year.
Tobacco smoke contains more than 5000 chemicals, of which at least 98 are harmful to health.
The list of tobacco-related diseases is so extensive that, in itself, give a series of articles but the purpose of these lines is not “rain in the wet,” repeating and warning of the dangers associated with tobacco. I doubt that the consumers do not know them and, in that sense, I consider that it is not by ignorance or ingenuity that the consumption of a substance with this potential of morbidity and mortality is maintained.
Thus, the reason for this text is not so much access to information about tobacco, but the way it is decoded by consumers. That is, a tobacco user knows that this is bad. But do you know with some rigor what makes you sick? Will you know the reasons why a cigarette can attack your body? A recent survey in the United States suggests that it is not.
An example: when the tobacco industry puts the emphasis on the elimination of additives, a high percentage of consumers, more than half, assumes that these additives are the most harmful tobacco substances, which could not be further from the truth.
In fact, the harmful effects of tobacco result from its combustion. It is not the paper, the filter, the additives or even the nicotine, but the combustion of the cigarette that generates new dangerous chemical substances and concentrates others.
According to this work, people attribute additives to this potential of danger because the tobacco industry tends to create this perception.
Another example: when asked about the meaning of filter cigarettes, about a third of respondents believe that their function is to retain all hazardous substances, thus making the act of smoking a harmless experience. However, the filters do not exhibit any protective function. They are designed to make the inhaled particles smaller and facilitate the absorption of nicotine, which, in practice, increases the addition.
To what extent will these aspects be relevant? Will someone quit or start smoking because of this? As I began to mention, most people smoke even knowing the risk they run and even feeling a lot of the harmful effects of tobacco. In many cases, even after an acute episode of tobacco-related illness or aggravated by it, patients do not stop smoking.
So it may seem ridiculous to try to figure out if people give importance to filters and additives.
The question, in my view, has a different scope. Beyond knowing that tobacco causes disease and can be a cause of death, it is important that people know why and not create a distorted perception about such a sensitive matter. This has a potential impact on your behavior and the information that these people can bring to third parties, such as family members, colleagues or friends.
If you consider that the additives are responsible for the harmful effects of tobacco, you will inevitably have the temptation to switch to a brand without additives and you may not even consider quitting.
It is therefore very important to realize not only that tobacco is bad but how. Without this full information, the behaviors already difficult to change will tend to persist or change in the wrong direction.
What to do?
On the one hand, anti-tobacco campaigns should address all these topics. Beyond lung cancer, cardiovascular disease and all clinical conditions associated with smoking, it is important to shed light on the mechanisms by which these diseases arise. This will only prevent people from changing their brand thinking that they are protecting themselves when in fact they are only being conditioned by misleading marketing campaigns or by insufficient information.
The information provided by manufacturers and authorities must be explicit with respect to these matters, allowing consumers to make informed decisions rather than change their brand or think that there are safe ways to smoke. Because there is not.
Advertising campaigns should be monitored to ensure that messages are properly served.
According to the World Health Organization, there are around 1.1 billion smokers worldwide. Although this consumption is declining in some countries, it continues to increase in the Mediterranean countries and in Africa.
This is a problem with a huge medical, economic and social dimension, and the many efforts already made have not been able to eradicate this “epidemic”.
There is a slight reduction in tobacco consumption in Portugal, assessed between 2005 and 2014 (DGS data, February 2016), from 20.9% to 20.0%. But even so, only in Portugal died 12,000 people during the year 2013 due to causes attributable to tobacco.
All that can be done to improve these statistics is good. Providing clear, correct and uncomplicated information will always be one of the paths to be pursued and can contribute, together with other tools, to make this habit, if not less common, at least more enlightened.
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