World No-Tobacco Day marked on May 31 across the world is a day to focus on informing people about health problems associated with tobacco use and to draw attention to the health problems that tobacco use can cause.
It is staggering to note that tobacco is related to 7 million deaths every year globally, 1 million of which are in developing countries. In India, every sixth second a person loses his life battling diseases due to the consumption of tobacco. According to Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS), India has an alarmingly high rate of tobacco consumption. Almost 275 million adults, which is nearly 35% of the population, consume some form of tobacco and the number is only rising.
Medical researches have made it clear that tobacco use increases the likelihood of many illnesses including heart attacks, strokes, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), pregnancy issues in women emphysema and many forms of cancer which are the world’s leading causes of death.
The current scenario and the statistics foreshadow a higher future burden of the diseases, with even women catching up to men in smoking rates. Young children are not far behind on catching up with this habit. According to Tobacco Atlas report, approx 6.25 lakh children smoke on a daily basis in India. A major reason for this is especially because tobacco and cigarette products remain easily available and are also cheap. In fact cigarettes are also sold loose in our country.
The above mentioned statistics make it clear that smoking is a public health emergency, which requires recalibrating measures to protect young boys and girls. Also, the economic cost of smoking in India is around Rs 181,869 crore and this includes the health care expenditure and indirect costs such as lost productivity.
Not denying the fact that India has implemented some of the best anti-tobacco campaigns and initiatives, and as a result the prevalence of tobacco usage has declined from 34.6% in 2009 to 28.6% in 2017. But it continues to be a serious public health challenge. Media campaigns and advertising has put in a lot of efforts to pull down this major issue though.
With the government’s intervention tobacco companies are now made to focus not only on the fancy, colorful, unique packets and packaging boxes. But also to larger health warnings and brand names which are written in the same size and font, regardless of make.
These changes are the latest in a long line of regulations designed to make smoking less appealing, particularly to teenagers. But with the growing disease burden we as a nation should take a comprehensive approach to curb tobacco consumption. Different target segments should be focused entirely for the prevention and suppression of tobacco consumption in India.
This could be improved by the social communities or adult education interventions, facilitated and assessed by training for health professionals and schoolteachers. The approach should be focused on what works best for different segments, be it the number of people starting smoking, the number of people stopping, or the number of people relapsing back to smoking after attempting to quit.
One important step would be raising tobacco taxes, which is one of the most effective measures of tobacco control. Not only cigarettes but the government should ensure no forms of tobacco should escape the tax net. Also the non-governmental organizations championing the anti-cigarette lobby in India should work hand in hand with the government especially when it comes to programme that aims to reduce second-hand tobacco smoke.
Therefore, health institutes, educational institutes, social groups and NGOs along with the government support can togeteher take a crucial step in bringing down the burden of tobacco in India.
Author: Sir, Dr. Huz (Huzaifa Khorakiwala) is the CEO & Trustee at Wockhardt Foundation)
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