World No Tobacco Day: A good time to call it quits

By Catherine Warner, MSW
Outreach Coordinator
Division of Tobacco Prevention and Control

Each year on May 31, the World Health Organization (WHO) observes World No Tobacco Day.  The campaign encourages a 24-hour period of abstinence from all tobacco products worldwide.  If you use tobacco and haven’t been able to quit yet, today is the perfect day to try again and take part in the global effort to end the tobacco epidemic. You can call the S.C. Tobacco Quitline for free help.

Participating countries across the globe are working toward implementing policies that reduce the use and harm of tobacco products.  Problems vary by country, as does the type of tobacco product used.

Efforts to fight the global epidemic of tobacco include the work we do here at home. In South Carolina, we have a 31 percent quit rate among former smokers, which means that 14,655 tobacco users in South Carolina have quit successfully; this translates into savings of $41.3 million in tobacco-related direct health care costs.  The DHEC-managed S.C. Tobacco Quitline has served more than 100,000 people to date, with 95 percent of callers requesting help in quitting smoking.  Sixty-two out of 81 school districts in South Carolina have adopted 100 percent comprehensive tobacco-free policies.  And most recently, DHEC became tobacco-free at all sites statewide on March 1, 2016, through the A Healthier State tobacco-free campus initiative.

Public Health workers at the Department of Health and Environmental Control spend a lot of time educating people about tobacco use.

We go into communities and work with partners—telling them what we know about tobacco.  We know that smoking-related cancers have claimed the lives of nearly 60,000 South Carolinians since 2005.  We tell people that smokeless tobacco is directly linked to several cancers, including mouth, tongue and pancreatic cancer.  We tell people that exposure to secondhand smoke doubles the risk of heart attack among non-smokers.  We provide people with resources to quit and protect children and other vulnerable populations from tobacco and secondhand smoke.

What we often neglect to tell people is how this fits into the global picture.  Tobacco use has shifted to the developing world, causing more death and disease in countries where access to health care, cessation resources and tobacco regulation are lacking.  Nearly two-thirds of the world’s smokers live in 10 countries:  (in order from most smokers to least) China, India, Indonesia, Russian Federation, United States, Japan, Brazil, Bangladesh, Germany and Turkey.

be a quitterToday, tobacco use causes 1 in 10 deaths among adults worldwide, which is more than 5 million people a year.  Unless things change, tobacco’s annual death toll will rise to more than 8 million people by the year 2030.

The WHO projects that more than 80 percent of the world’s tobacco-related deaths will be in low- and middle-income countries by 2030.  Something to consider this World No Tobacco Day is that tobacco use increases poverty—money spent on tobacco means less money spent on necessities such as food, shelter, education and health care.  The poorest 20 percent of households in Mexico spend nearly 11 percent of their household income on tobacco.  Medical costs from smoking impoverish more than 50 million people in China.

With all the progress we have made in South Carolina and with nationwide tobacco control efforts, it is easy to forget how tobacco affects people worldwide.  We are fortunate to have information and resources to help people quit, and we can all help create a healthier tomorrow by quitting tobacco use today.

For more information and free resources to help you or someone you know quit tobacco, visit

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