Tobacco use affects environment too

Ancilla Rayappan, a final year medical student and chair UPNGCA, making a point during the WNTD event at UPNG Waigani Campus.

TOBACCO use remains a significantly important public health issue. In addition to its harmful impact on human health, recent research has shown that smoking is also causing devastating environmental damage. In order to bring awareness out to the masses, and to mobilise global efforts against tobacco use, the World Health Organization has dedicated a day to that effect.
The ‘World No Tobacco Day’ is an annual event observed on May 31. Its primary goal is to inform the public on the dangers of using tobacco, the business practices of tobacco companies, what the WHO is doing to fight tobacco use, and what people around the world can do to claim their right to health and healthy living.
The theme for 2022 is, ‘Tobacco: Threat to our environment’. Through this theme, the WHO aims to raise public awareness on the environmental impact of tobacco – from cultivation, production, distribution, and waste disposal. On May 31 this year, a small yet very significant event was hosted at the University of Papua New Guinea Taurama campus. The programme included posters and infographics displays by students, and grand-round presentations by an academic and students.
The event was an initiative of the UPNG Cancer Association – an organisation founded in 2021 by students at the UPNG School of Medicine and Health Sciences. It was started off as a small group of medical students, who volunteered to work closely with the Papua New Guinea Cancer Foundation (PNGCF), under the name, ‘MedFac Volunteers for PNGCF’. It eventually expanded to include students from other schools of UPNG.

Dr Priscilla Nad from WHO speaking at UPNG Waigani campus on World No Tobacco Day.

In line with WHO’s key messages on tobacco use, the event highlighted that through cultivation, production, distribution, consumption, and post-consumer waste, tobacco destroys our environment, thus, further harming human health.
Tobacco growing, manufacturing and use poison our water, soil, beaches and city streets with chemicals, toxic waste, cigarette butts, including microplastics, and e-cigarette waste.
It was also revealed that tobacco use has very strong association with occurrence of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) – cardiovascular diseases, chronic respiratory diseases, diabetes, and cancers – all over the world. Globally, NCDs are the largest killers with 71 per cent total deaths, and of which, 80 per cent is in low- and middle-income countries. In PNG, almost equal number of male and female deaths are associated with NCDs.
Other risk factors of NCDs include, unhealthy diet, harmful use of alcohol, physical inactivity, and air pollution.
Thus, out of 12 countries with well over 33 per cent of population who are smokers, five are Pacific Island countries – Kiribati, Federated State of Micronesia, Papua New Guinea, Cook Islands, and Nauru. Within the University of Papua New Guinea, amongst staff, both academic and non-academic, 16.4 per cent are smokers, with majority being males.
Every year, tobacco kills more than 8 million people globally. Thus, 7 million die from direct use whilst 1.2 million deaths are due to non-smoker exposure to second hand smoke. Tobacco consumption is also very addictive. It thus creates a vicious cycle of use and poverty. It results in high opportunity cost when more money is spent on tobacco, further leading to families falling deeper into poverty.
Activities of World No Tobacco Day were extended to UPNG Waigani campus on June 14. It was a collaborative effort between UPNG Cancer Association, PNG Cancer Foundation, WHO, and NDOH, to further resonate global health and environmental concerns relating to tobacco use and all its associated activities.

Guests and UPNG staff and students after WNTD presentations.

Apart from Dr Shalon Taufa, a senior academic and her team of staff and students from the School of Medicine and Healthy Sciences, present at the event were, Dr Priscilla Nad, Dr Beena Dagam, and Vicky Wari and Rosemary Robert, representing World Health Organisation PNG, PNG Cancer Foundation, and the National Department of Health, respectively.
A handful of students from the Waigani campus were also around to facilitate the display of posters and infographics, and issue health materials on cancer awareness.
Though attendance was small, speeches delivered on that day bear great significance to tobacco consumption and its effects on health and environment in Papua New Guinea. The event ended on a positive note with the National Department Health expressing keen interest to involve members of UPNG Cancer Association in its national health education and awareness programs.

Source of information:
1. ASH 2021, Tobacco and the environment,
2. Australian Government, World No Tobacco Day 2022, Tobacco – Threat to our environment,
3. Milton Lum 2022, Tobacco: A Threat to our Environment,

  • Gelinde Narekine is a technical officer with the disciple of Medical Laboratory Science, Division of Health Sciences, UPNG School of Medicine and Health Sciences.