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How many people each year suffer some type of preventable harm that contributes to their death after a hospital visit?
from 46,000 to 78,000
from 78,000 to 132,000
from 132,000 to 210,000
from 210,000 to 440,000


 Tobacco: A Global Epidemic 
The following is one in an ongoing series of columns entitled Mind Over Matter by . View all columns in series
If you've been looking for a reason to quit, what you're about to read may actually startle you - 1.1 billion of you who presently smoke or use tobacco products.

According to a recent article on the website,, "by 2030, tobacco is expected to be the biggest cause of death worldwide, killing one out of every six people."

While you might contend that statistics are bound to change over the next 30 years, I wouldn't venture to disagree. The problem is that the numbers are not getting better. Presently, 4 million deaths are attributed to tobacco each year. By 2020, that number is estimated to increase by 250%. Never before has the world experienced such an atrocity.

From an historical perspective, the tobacco data is almost unfathomable. Throughout the ages, populations have been wiped out by diseases, plagues, natural disasters, starvation, war and genocide. Yet 10+ million people dying EACH YEAR from a product that individuals actually pay for has to make everyone of us shake our heads in disbelief.

The burden for halting this disaster is not on the US alone. China is the world's largest importer, producer and consumer of tobacco with more than 320 million smokers. According to the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, the majority of Chinese smokers are unaware of the health risks.

In our nation, such is not the case. Despite extensively publicized research and warnings, Americans refuse to acknowledge the perils of tobacco use. The daunting question is, "Why?"

After a great deal of contemplation, I may have arrived at the answer. When one delves into the stark reality of tobacco-related illness and death, there can be only one reason for failing to heed the warnings. American smokers simply must not believe the data. They've placed their trust in "Big Brother" who has promised to protect them.

Any third grader would tell you that our government is big on protecting us - that's the main reason we pay taxes. After all, the US has one of the most advanced militaries in the world to ward off invasions, police forces and an FBI to ensure safety, an EPA to preserve our environment, a Supreme Court to determine justice for all, and an FDA to mandate the release of safe medications. I could list many more examples, but I'm sure you get the point.

The underlying rationale for ongoing tobacco use may therefore be based on one simple assumption: The world's greatest nation would not allow us to freely purchase cigarettes and tobacco related products if they were bad for us. Seems like an open and shut case!

Unfortunately, the assumption is incorrect. Reality boils down to dollars.

The stark reality is that the US and other nations have resisted tobacco control for economic purposes. Such sanctions have been projected to result in the loss of jobs and tax revenues, not to mention political support. Farmers would starve and our nation's economy would suffer. Right? ... don't believe it!

Tobacco farmers could initially be subsidized to grow other products. We are no longer living in the economy of the 1800s. It's time "we the people" stopped believing the rhetoric that our nation's economic prosperity is built on a foundation of growing death weeds. It's time we started acknowledging the facts while taking responsibility for the killing!

What we do not need is more rhetoric.

I was no less than disgusted when I read recently about the United Nation's latest plan called The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Advertising bans, taxation and anti-smoking education targeted at the world's youth are presently being considered by the UN. Their plan, however, is not slated to be adopted until 2003. Who are we kidding?

Why should it take 3 years for the UN to develop tobacco controls. Is the problem of such little significance that a team of experts cannot be assembled to work diligently over the next few months to accomplish such a goal? Worse yet, in the US we already have advertising bans, tobacco taxes and educational programs. Wake up, UN ... it isn't working!

When will the nations of the world step up to the plate and do more than pretend to care about the more than 10 million people who will die each year of tobacco-related illnesses? A global effort is needed now to put a halt to the killing. This is a wake up call America. We don't have time for the snooze alarm - Mind Over Matter!

© 1998,1999 Barry Bittman, MD all rights reserved

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 About The Author
Barry Bittman, MD is a neurologist, author, international speaker, award-winning producer/director and inventor. As CEO and Medical Director of the Mind-Body Wellness Center, a......moreBarry Bittman MD
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