World No Tobacco Day (31 May 2019): Don’t Let Tobacco Take Your Breath Away

Every year, on 31 May, the World Health Organization (WHO) and global partners celebrate World No Tobacco Day (WNTD). The annual campaign is an opportunity to raise awareness on the harmful and deadly effects of tobacco use and second-hand smoke exposure, and to discourage the use of tobacco in any form.
The focus of World No Tobacco Day 2019 is on “tobacco and lung health.” The campaign aims to increase awareness on:
  • Risks posed by tobacco smoking and second-hand smoke exposure;
  • Awareness on the particular dangers of tobacco smoking to lung health;
  • Magnitude of death and illness globally from lung diseases caused by tobacco, including chronic respiratory diseases and lung cancer;
  • Emerging evidence on the link between tobacco smoking and tuberculosis deaths;
  • Implications of second-hand exposure for lung health of people across age groups;
  • Importance of lung health to achieving overall health and well-being;
  • Feasible actions and measures that key audiences, including the public and governments, can take to reduce the risks to lung health posed by tobacco.

Background Information:

Second-hand smoke is smoke emitted from the burning end of a cigarette or from other smoked tobacco products, usually in combination with smoke exhaled by the smoker.
Tobacco smoking and exposure to second-hand smoke are major risk factors for
  • lung cancer,
  • chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD),
  • tuberculosis (TB) and
  • asthma.

Key Messages:

Respiratory diseases are among the leading causes of death globally, and tobacco is
a major risk factor.
2019-05-29 08_43_45-WHO-NMH-PND-2019.3-eng.pdf - Opera
Infants born to mothers who smoke, or to women who are exposed to second-hand smoke during pregnancy, are likely to suffer reduced lung growth and function.
Chemicals found in tobacco smoke during critical stages of development in the womb have long-lasting, damaging effects on the lungs.
Smokers’ children suffer reduced lung function, which continues to affect them in the form of chronic respiratory disorders in adulthood.
Adolescents who smoke are more likely to suffer chronic respiratory disorders and risk permanently damaging their lungs. The lungs continue to grow well into adulthood, but inhaling the toxins found in tobacco smoke slows this process and causes potentially irreversible lung damage.
The harmful effects of tobacco smoke on the lungs are almost immediate. Tobacco smoke causes reduced lung function and breathlessness due to the swelling of airways and build-up of mucus in the lungs. The immediate respiratory symptoms are just part of the damage tobacco does to the lungs.
About one quarter of the world’s population has latent TB, placing them at risk of developing the active disease.
Smoking substantially increases the risk of TB and death from TB. More than 20% of global TB incidence may be attributable to tobacco.
Tobacco smoking more than doubles the risk of transforming TB from a latent state to the active disease.
Tobacco smoking is the most common cause of lung cancer, causing roughly 1.2 million lung cancer deaths every year. Smokers are up to 22 times more likely to develop lung cancer in their lifetime, compared with non-smokers.
Non-smokers exposed to second-hand smoke at home or in the workplace have
a 30% higher risk of developing lung cancer.
WHO estimates that 235 million people currently suffer from asthma. Inhaling tobacco smoke is one of the major triggers for asthma to develop and/or worsen. In people living with asthma, tobacco smoking further restricts activity, contributes to work disability and increases the risk of severe asthma requiring emergency care.
Around one in nine asthma deaths can be attributed to tobacco smoking. Patients with asthma can control their asthma more effectively if they quit tobacco.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a lung disease that causes episodes of breathlessness, coughing and mucus production. In 2016, it was estimated that over 251 million people live with COPD. Tobacco smoking is the most important risk factor for COPD, causing swelling and rupturing of the air sacs in the lungs, which reduces the lung’s capacity to take in oxygen and expel carbon dioxide.
One in five smokers will develop COPD in their lifetime, and almost half of COPD deaths are attributable to smoking. 
Most cases of COPD are preventable by avoidance or early cessation of tobacco smoking. 
Patients with COPD who stop smoking regain more lung function and suffer fewer long-term effects.
After 10 years free of tobacco, the risk of lung cancer is reduced to about half that of a smoker.
Quitting tobacco use has the potential to reverse some, but not all, of the damage done by tobacco smoke to the lungs. Quitting as soon as possible is therefore essential to prevent the onset of chronic lung disease, which is potentially irreversible once it has developed.
Lung function improves within just two weeks of quitting tobacco use. Quitting smoking after a diagnosis of lung disease is associated with better treatment outcomes and improved quality of life.
Effective cessation strategies include:
  • Brief advice for tobacco cessation
  • Toll-free quitlines
  • Mobile phone based tobacco cessation (Example: mTobaccoCessation in India)

Useful Links:

Link to World No Tobacco Day web site:

Links to related WHO videos:




Link to WHO fact sheet on health benefits of smoking cessation:

Link to infographic ‘Smoker’s Body’:

Link to India’s mTobaccoCessation (mCessation) program:

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