The dangers of smoking and vaping |…


LUNG cancer is the second most common cancer worldwide. Although there aren’t any statistics on the number of cancer deaths attributed to lung cancer in T&T, back in 2017 it was cited as the second most common cancer in this country. There is nothing to suggest that anything has changed between then and now.

That’s why education is so important, said physician and chairwoman at the Trinidad and Tobago Cancer Society (TTCS) Dr Asante Le Blanc. In the lead-up to World No Tobacco Day on May 31, the TTCS will collaborate with Scotiabank to launch a series of educational campaigns during the months of May and June, including their second consecutive virtual lectures on the harmful effects of tobacco smoking and vaping.

These lectures are extremely vital for several reasons, said Le Blanc. Society has known for decades that smoking is dangerous to one’s health, but then came vaping, which the tobacco industry paraded as a healthy and cool alternative to smoking, she added.

With the rise of social media influencers and young activists, the medical doctor and certified herbalist hopes the lectures will spark a chain reaction among youths and their peers.

“Cancer is a lifestyle disease. Knowing that young people will hopefully become the leaders of our country and our communities, it’s important to educate them and their peers about the harmful effects of smoking and vaping and to help them combat peer pressure and build self-awareness when it comes to their health. We are at a pivotal moment where we can introduce to younger ones, healthier lifestyles and the importance of prevention versus cure,” said Le Blanc

The issue of cancer statistics in T&T is being remedied slowly, said Le Blanc. TTCS is working with the Government to ensure that the cancer registry is back up.

“Most importantly we need to have legislation that allows for mandatory reporting of cancers and other NCDs; only then can we have a true picture of what is happening concerning cancer,”she added.

At the moment, if someone is diagnosed with cancer at a private institution, it is not mandatory for the institution to report it. Therefore the statistics that are on record as it relates to cancer are from the public health sector, not the private sector. But even as they await up-to-date statistics, Le Blanc and her colleagues have observed more lifestyle diseases including lung cancers and lung issues because of smoking and vaping.

“What’s alarming is that up to 2017, lung cancer was at number two, from our clinical observation we’re not seeing a change and that is the problem. I’m either seeing a slight increase or stagnation of incidence rates and that means our work is not done.”

The stress, isolation and change in routines, as a result of the pandemic, has led to an increase in smoking. Le Blanc knows of some who had quit, but recommenced smoking during the pandemic because of the stress. This is linked to mental health, says Le Blanc who adds that without the appropriate coping mechanisms, some will resort to unhealthy behaviour and habits.

“We’ve all been through two and a half years of extreme stress, we have been in flight or fight mode. And depending on your coping mechanism, it can influence your behaviour and the toxic lifestyle you choose, be it drinking or smoking. Unfortunately I do think we will see an increase in smoking and vaping, but our hope is to nip it in the bud and avoid it from starting in our younger generations,” she said.

Address myths

Exactly how dangerous is vaping? A five per cent cartridge can contain nicotine that is approximately equivalent to one pack of cigarettes. The vaping flavours that sound harmless, like banana, bubblegum and strawberry, can cause popcorn lung and can affect the bronchioles, which are the smallest airways in the lungs, added Le Blanc.

Vaping also puts the lungs in a more compromised state in the face of Covid-19, which is a respiratory disease.

“Vaping is by no means harmless, Vaping was introduced as a so-called smoking cessation tool. But then it became another manipulation by the tobacco industry because if there is the same amount of nicotine how is it helping you quit smoking? If it includes additives which damage the lung, how is that helping the person? This is not something we are pushing because we are the cancer society… it’s the truth.”

The TTCS is fighting an uphill battle against a powerful industry. That’s all too evident here in T&T. Although the Tobacco Control Act was enacted, there is a struggle to get it enforced, said the physician.

“Now we’re told we have to go back to the drawing board to include vaping in that Tobacco Control Act so that we can save the health of the population.”

It would have been disheartening for the physician had she not loved a challenge. She and the TTCS are determined to continue fighting.

“As the TTCS, we have to alert and educate the population because that’s our mission along with the promotion of screening for prevention and early detection,” she said.

Throughout the year, the TTCS works on campaigns that target several cancers. To commemorate World No Tobacco Day, they are collaborating with Scotiabank on a number of initiatives including virtual and in-person interactive lectures that will target young audiences at schools. The “Can’t Fool Me” campaign, which will address myths and misinformation about smoking and vaping, will also be launched. TTCS will also debut the first of its kind webinar on World No Tobacco Day. It will feature oncologists and physicians and raise awareness on a global issue that is of national importance.

Young ones have responded quite well to the virtual lectures on the harmful effects of smoking and vaping in the past. The TTCS hopes to keep up the momentum, said Le Blanc.

“Knowing that they have that thirst for knowledge and that thirst for interaction with adults about things like healthy topics and lifestyles is what inspires and motivates us to continue,.”

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