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Take action in November during World Lung Cancer Awareness Month

November is a globally designated month for focusing on lung cancer — a disease that causes about 1.59 million deaths worldwide each year. While smoking tobacco isn’t the exclusive cause of this insidious cancer, it is the primary one, with more than eight in 10 lung cancer deaths directly linked to smoking.

The impact

Smokers and those around them are at greater risk of developing not only lung cancer but also heart disease, other cancers, rheumatoid arthritis, fertility problems, dementia, certain eye diseases, pulmonary fibrosis, tooth loss, osteoporosis and other conditions. And smoking often worsens the symptoms of asthma, colds, flu, chest infections, tuberculosis, chronic rhinitis, diabetic retinopathy, hyperthyroidism, multiple sclerosis, optic neuritis and Crohn's disease.

The WHO predicts that tobacco use will account for about 8.4 million deaths by the year 2020 through its contributions to lung cancer, heart disease, stroke and other cancers. And one report estimates that 70% of all new cancer cases will occur in developing nations by the year 2050.

“Just as infectious diseases know no geographic or political boundaries, individual countries are incapable of effectively containing tobacco consumption,” concludes the WHO researchers. “Tobacco companies have increased marketing activities in developing countries, where about 900 million smokers live, accounting for 70% of global consumption … Many of the forces that support globalisation, such as the opening up of a country’s markets, allow the tobacco problem to increase.”

Progress and challenges

Globalisation is changing lifestyles and patterns of health across the world — bringing both affluence and new opportunities but also new health risks with it. In this case, ongoing public health campaigns in the developed world about smoking and the risks of cancer are helping citizens make healthier lifestyle choices. Indeed, early studies suggest a significant health impact from the British Government’s ban on smoking in public places in 2007.

Whether governments in the developing world follow suit — adopting methods such as bans on tobacco advertising and sponsorship, or introducing white packaging — remains to be seen.  But what may cloud the argument in favour of any such actions by developing countries is the monies generated for governments through tobacco taxation. In China, for example, that accounts for an estimated 6% of the nation’s tax take. How developing countries grapple with such considerations will likely influence the pace at which attitudes and behaviours towards tobacco usage may change, both for citizens and governments alike.

Improvements in technology and health care are one side of the equation to increasing lung cancer survival rates and finding a cure. And governments have a major role to play by supporting research, promoting public health and widening access to treatment. But the other side of the equation is how our personal choices shape our future health. The choice to make lifestyle changes can diminish the threat.

What we’re doing

At Aetna International, we’re helping people focus on staying healthy and providing support to those at risk of developing lung cancer. Some of the ways we do that include:

  • Making it easier and more convenient for people to access care and self-help resources through vHealth by Aetna (our 24/7 virtual care service) and our online tools and mobile apps.
  • Reaching at-risk members through our In Touch Care model, which offers one-on-one access to a clinician and lifestyle-change education to help lower their risk.
  • Driving employee engagement in their own health through webinars and group coaching programmes conveniently delivered at their place of work. Our smoking cessation coaching programme in Dubai saw 71% of participants give up the habit within six weeks — and stick with it.

What you can do

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