1 in 2 Chinese smokers unaware smoking causes heart disease

PHOTO: 1 in 2 Chinese smokers unaware smoking causes heart disease

SINGAPORE - A new report revealed that there are significant gaps in public awareness regarding the cardiovascular risks of tobacco use and secondhand smoke.

Commissioned by the World Heart Federation and written by the International Tobacco Control Project (ITC Project), the report showed that half of all Chinese smokers and one-third of Indian and Vietnamese smokers are unaware that smoking causes heart disease.

Across a wide range of countries - including India, Uruguay, South Korea and Poland - around half of all smokers and over 70 per cent of all Chinese smokers do not know that smoking causes stroke.

Awareness of the risk of secondhand smoke is even lower.

In Vietnam, nearly 90 per cent of smokers and non-smokers are unaware that secondhand smoke causes heart disease.

In China, 57 per cent of smokers and non-smokers are unaware of the link.

Even in countries with well-developed health systems and tobacco control regulation, such as the UK and the US, between a third and a half of smokers do not know that secondhand smoke can damage cardiovascular health.

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the world's leading cause of death, killing 17.3 million people every year.

Eighty per cent of these deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, which are increasingly being targeted by the tobacco industry.

Tobacco use and secondhand smoke exposure causes about one-tenth of global deaths from CVD. Even smoking a few cigarettes a day significantly increases the risk of heart disease.

Secondhand smoke exposure increases the risk of heart disease by 25 to 30 per cent and more than 87 per cent of worldwide adult deaths caused by secondhand smoke are attributable to CVD.

Smokeless tobacco products are not safe either - they have been linked to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.

In Singapore alone, about seven Singaporeans die prematurely from smoking-related diseases each day, with the number of adults who are now smokers rising to 14.3 per cent in 2011 compared with 12.6 per cent in 2004.

Tobacco use and secondhand smoke have been found to be one of the major causes of CVD which claims the lives of one in three Singaporeans.

Preventable death

Associate Professor Terrance Chua, Chairman of the Singapore Heart Foundation said, "Cardiovascular Disease is caused by many different factors; some are not preventable like family history. Smoking on the other hand, is a factor that is very much preventable."

Within a year of quitting, a smoker's risk of cardiovascular complications can be reduced by 50 per cent within a year, and the same as a non-smoker within 15 years, he said.

He added that by quitting, smokers also protect their family members by no longer subjecting them to the passive smoke from their cigarettes.

The report recommended steps to reduce the current and future cases of CVD due to tobacco use - which may total over 100 million people - among the one billion people throughout the world who smoke today, and of their families exposed to secondhand smoke:

Among these include a call for an increase in the price of tobacco products, the elimination of tobacco promotion and marketing, the usage of large and graphic warnings on plain tobacco product packaging and mass media public education campaigns.

It also called for the implementation of 100 per cent smoke-free laws in workplaces and public places.

In Singapore, the government has already begun taking steps to cut out or reduce the number of smokers.

Since 1970, laws have been introduced that prohibits smoking in public places.

The promotion of tobacco has also been outlawed while campaigns to promote the control of smoking are regularly activated.

Singapore was also one of the first signatories to the World Health Organisation's international treaty on tobacco use - the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).

The country was also the first in Asia to implement Graphic Health Warnings on cigarette packs and also has one of the highest tobacco taxes in the world.