Health professionals and tobacco control

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Toronto Public Health joins with communities around the world in celebration of World No Tobacco Day (WNTD) on May 31. World No Tobacco Day, created in 1988, is one of only four UN-agency related world days. This annual event, sponsored by the World Health Organization (WHO), was established to raise awareness of the international impact of tobacco use on public health and to promote a tobacco-free environment.

Currently, approximately 1.1 billion people around the world are addicted to tobacco and nearly 5 million die every year as a result of tobacco-related illnesses. Tobacco is the only legal product that causes the death of nearly half of its regular users. It is predicted that tobacco will be the leading cause of death and disability worldwide by the year 2020 (the Coalition for World No Tobacco Day; WHO).

World No Tobacco Day events take place on a global level, but it is the actions of local municipalities that are key to the success of this international campaign. This year’s theme for WNTD: “Health Professionals and Tobacco Control” represents an opportunity for health professionals to become more involved in educating the public on the dangers of smoking and the importance of quitting. Studies have shown that even brief counseling by health professionals is one of the most cost-effective methods of reducing smoking (WHO). “Health professionals” include not only medical doctors, but also other professionals such as nurses, midwives, chiropractors, dentists, psychologists and psychiatrists, pharmacists, and other health related professions.

In January 2004, the WHO Tobacco Free Initiative held a meeting with representatives of international health professional organizations to explore ways in which they could contribute to public health goals in tobacco control. A “code of practice” for health professional organizations was developed which lists 14 action points by which all health professionals can contribute to tobacco control.

For example, participating health professionals have agreed to lead by example and be role models by not using tobacco themselves. By promoting a smoke-free culture, they will set the example to be followed by their patients. Smoking prevalence among health professionals in many countries is the same, or even higher, than the average of the population. For example, in Saudi Arabia, 20% of the doctors smoke whereas the average for the population is 13% (WHO). Additionally, health professionals should increase and strengthen tobacco surveillance and cessation programs, promote smoke-free work and public places, and carry out education and community advocacy.

“If dentists warned all their patients that smoking causes excess plaque, yellowing teeth and contributes to tooth decay, as well as a five-fold increased risk of oral cancer, the impact on smoking would be dramatic” (WHO).

The WHO would like health professionals to help by strengthening the position they have on tobacco control and remind their patients and everyone else that their doctor, nurse, physician, dentist, pharmacist, etc. can give advice, guidance and answers to their questions about smoking. Many professional organizations/colleges produce guidelines around integrating tobacco control into practice. You are encouraged to contact your professional organization for more information.

With 1.1 billion smokers worldwide and five million tobacco-related deaths annually, tobacco must continue to be a priority on the health agenda. Your active participation in WNTD is key to successfully curbing the tobacco epidemic. Dedicating World No Tobacco Day, May 31st, to this one cause and to promoting the WHO Code of Practice on Tobacco Control is our best chance for stamping out tobacco-related death and disease.

For more information:

Nursing Best Practice Guideline: Integrating Smoking Cessation into Daily Nursing Practice: www.rnao.org/bestpractices/index.asp

World No Tobacco Day: www.who.int/tobacco/communications/events/wntd/2005

The Code of Practice on Tobacco Control for Health Professionals: www.who.int/tobacco/communications/events/codeofpractice

Toronto Public Health:www.toronto.ca/health/wntd_index.htm