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News Article

A Killing Habit: Smoking in Mexico

By Miriam Bello | Mon, 05/31/2021 - 12:50

The number of smokers reached an all-time high in 2019, with more than 1.14 billion active smokers, according to a global burden of disease (GBD) study published in The Lancet. This trend is no less serious in Mexico, which has about 15 million active smokers. An average percentage of 9.2 women and 28.4 men smoke in Mexico and the habit starts at an early age, with a growing number of teenagers who begin smoking at about 13 years of age. Per day, Mexico registers 51,000 smoking- related deaths, which is 141 deaths per day.

“If this trend continues, the annual number of deaths and years of life lost to diseases attributable to smoking will increase in the coming decades,” reads The Lancet. To address this issue, the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which has operated in Mexico since 2005, urged countries to stablish a total ban on the advertising, promotion and sponsorship of tobacco products. The framework also endorses strong health warnings on cigarette packaging, which should cover at least 30 percent and ideally 50 percent of exposed surfaces. WHO also supports measures that reduce illicit trade of tobacco products and protecting individuals from exposure to second-hand smoke in all indoor workplaces, public places and public transportation. Mexico has also implemented about 14 state laws that delineate smoke-free spaces.

Despite from these efforts, smoking has increased in the country. While the increase is not deeply concerning, the INSP warns that there are no actions to reduce the country’s burden of disease (morbidity and mortality) caused by smoking. There are also no measures to avoid the negative economic impact on the Mexican health sector caused by the care of smoking-related diseases, which amount to almost MX$80 billion (US$4 billion) a year.

This health expenditure corresponds to the many direct and indirect damages smoking causes to the human body. According to the CDC, smoking causes cancer, heart disease, stroke, lung diseases, diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Smoking also increases the risk of tuberculosis, certain eye diseases and immune system problems, including rheumatoid arthritis. The 15 million active smokers in a country that has suffered a history of cancer epidemies, cardiovascular diseases and diabetes is a dangerous cocktail for Mexico’s economic prosperity, as smoking is more prevalent among economically active groups of the population, according to a study by WHO. Moreover, smoking and its derived health issues increase the risk of developing serious COVID-19.

In children, the effects of second-hand smoking are also concerning. UNAM states that in the world about 165,000 children die before their fifth birthday from respiratory tract infections caused by second-hand tobacco smoke. Children become passive smokers when one or both parents smoke, which exposes their children to 7,000 chemicals, of which 250 are highly toxic and 70 are cancer-producing. The CDC states that second-hand smoke contributes to approximately 41,000 deaths among nonsmoking adults. Secondhand smoke causes stroke, lung cancer and coronary heart disease in adults.

On recent years, smoking trends have shifted to the use of electronic cigarette smoking, vapers, heated tobacco or combustible cigarettes, which according to ENSANUT contributes to the development of early addiction to nicotine as these products contain the substance. ENSANUT states that “1.3 million minors are already smokers of combustible cigarettes and 335,000 use an electronic device, all of them captured by the industry’s marketing strategy. The introduction of flavored capsules and new tobacco products from an early age leads to alterations in neurological development and might cause some to develop lung respiratory lesions associated with the use of electronic cigarettes or vaping.”

As of 2020, the electronic cigarette trade has been prohibited in Mexico “due to the risk of containing toxic substances and carcinogenic compounds, sometimes at higher amounts than traditional cigarettes,” stated a Presidential decree.

Miriam Bello Miriam Bello Journalist and Industry Analyst