May 31 is World No Tobacco Day. The message from the World Health Organization to governments around the globe is to ban tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship. That's to try and prevent children from taking up smoking and to encourage smokers to quit. Tobacco kills nearly six million people every year, and the numbers are only expected to rise.
Terrie Hall is a former smoker. Her grandchildren will never know what she sounded like before she got cancer. She appears in a public service announcement: "If you're a smoker, I have a tip for you. Make a video of yourself before all this happens. Read a children's story book, or sing a lullaby. I wish I had."
Hall is part of a new campaign from The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) that features stories from former smokers.
Bill Busse is another former smoker. "Last year they amputated my left leg because of poor circulation. After surgery, I reached down and found that my foot wasn’t there anymore. That was the day I quit," he recalled.
The campaign has renewed interest in quitting, according to Dr. Thomas Frieden of the CDC. "Quitting smoking is the single most effective thing you can do to improve your health," he said.
But it's hard. Only 10 percent of smokers will quit in a given year according to Joanna Cohen from Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. She spoke to VOA via Skype. "Tobacco use is an addictive behavior, and it's a human behavior which is very complex," she explained. "So just think of any behavior on your own that you want to change, and it's not easy."
That's why the CDC tells smokers to ask their doctors for help.
"My doctors finally helped me quit. Along with my amputation, the doctors prescribed me some medicine and counseling," said Busse.
That's a message the CDC wants people to know.
"They have medications that can double the successful quit rate, and they can connect our patients with resources in the community which they can have on top of that," stated Dr. Jeff Cain, head of the American Academy of Family Physicians.
The U.S. government has been warning people about the harmful effects of tobacco for fifty years. Other countries are doing the same. Thailand requires graphic labels on packs of cigarettes. Turkey and Russia have enacted strong tobacco control laws.
In Russia, it was only partly due to health care costs according to Cohen. "Their citizens were dying off early, way earlier than they should be," she said.
The World Health Organization says four out of five tobacco-related deaths are in low and middle-income countries. These countries bear the greatest burden of disease and premature death. Aaccording to WHO, these countries are where the tobacco industry is seeking new smokers.