Tobacco and TB: The deadly duo claiming thousands of lives in South Asia

Efforts to highlight the link between smoking and tuberculosis are underway in some of the most impoverished communities in South Asia with the help of research led by a respiratory specialist at York.

A Pakistani man sells tobacco in his shop a day ahead of World No Tobacco Day, in Peshawar, Pakistan, 30 May 2013 (Copyright: © epa european pressphoto agency b.v. / Alamy)

Dr Kamran Siddiqi, a senior lecturer in our Department of Health Sciences, combined his clinical skills as former doctor with academic research expertise to find the most effective way to encourage TB patients in Pakistan to stop smoking.

His studies hold particular relevance for Pakistan and South Asia where over half of the world’s TB cases are located. The prevalence of TB combined with some of the world’s highest smoking rates has left the region in the grip of a dual respiratory epidemic claiming thousands of lives each year.

Infectious disease epidemic

Dr Siddiqi explained: “Tobacco use has been declining in developed countries but in South Asia it has tripled in the last decade. The challenge is to raise awareness of TB risk factors such as tobacco while resources are focused on the ongoing battle against what has become an infectious disease epidemic.”

The result was ASSIST (Action to Stop Smoking in Suspected Tuberculosis) - a research trial led by Dr Siddiqi in Punjab, which compared different approaches to smoking cessation. The study found that the most successful intervention was counselling sessions delivered by health staff with information highlighting the health risks of smoking while, at the same time, giving patients practical strategies to help them quit.

Over 20 districts and around 600 doctors across Pakistan have adopted the programme which is expected to reach up to 35,000 smokers with TB. The project was highly commended for a BUPA Healthy Lives prize in 2012.

Chewing tobacco

Now Dr Siddiqi is focusing his research efforts on reducing the use of chewing tobacco in South Asia. He is also evaluating programmes raising awareness of the dangers of second-hand smoke amongst children in Bangladesh and Muslim communities in the UK.

Dr Siddiqi said: “Thousands of families in Pakistan who are already struggling to survive on a limited income are forced to contend with the burden of TB and the devastating toll it takes. Smoking and tobacco use are just adding to the health problems. At York, we are looking at ways to develop behavioural support for some of our poorest communities around the world where health is being damaged by tobacco use – in all its forms.”

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Thousands of families in Pakistan surviving on a limited income have to contend with the burden of TB and its devastating toll. Tobacco just adds to the health problems.”

Dr Kamran Siddiqi
Department of Health Sciences
Featured researcher
Dr Kamran Siddiqi

Dr Kamran Siddiqi

Senior Lecturer in Public Health

Medical background with further training in chest diseases and public health and has carried out research in the UK, Latin America and South Asia in the area of lung health.

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