Time for a wake-up call
Dr Arun Kumar Giri
Tobacco consumption remains one of the leading causes of death worldwide, claiming about six million lives each year. The World Health Organisation (WHO) expects the figure to reach eight million a year by 2030. Tobacco usage has an overall impact on national economies with declining productivity and inflating healthcare costs.
The WHO has marked May 31 as World No Tobacco Day (WNTD) to spread awareness on health hazards and additional risks associated with tobacco usage. This year, the theme for WNTD is ‘Tobacco – a threat to development.’ As part of this, various campaigns have been organised for advocating effective policies which can curb down the tobacco consumption culture.
The WHO aims to target all age groups and demonstrate the threats that the tobacco industry poses to the health and well-being of people and to the overall development of any country. It is important that every country and individual joins this campaign aimed at fighting the problems associated with tobacco usage.
Tobacco consumption has major impact on a person’s health and damage various organs of a body.
Tobacco smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals, including over 70 which are known to cause cancer. The consumption of tobacco is a major cause for heart attacks, strokes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) as well. The impact which tobacco has on health is dependent on usage level and the numbers of years that a person has been smoking for.
In India, the usage of tobacco in both smoked and chewable form is rising. The WHO predicts that tobacco-related deaths may exceed 1.5 million annually by 2020. Another emerging trend points to more women consuming tobacco. India is home to the third largest number of female smokers after the United States and China as per the third edition of the Tobacco Atlas released by The American Cancer Society.
Of the estimated 12.2 million female tobacco consumers in India, nearly half smoke and the rest chew it in different forms. This can be linked to increased efforts by tobacco companies linking smoking to women’s rights and gender equality, apart from creating a perception that smoking is associated with glamour and social upward mobility. Tobacco products with different flavors, aromas, sizes and packaging are available in major towns and cities.
Some women smoke to control body weight. However, this tendency is harmful. A healthy diet and exercise remains the best way to control weight. Smoking can lead to lung cancer, heart disease, stroke, pulmonary disease and breast cancer. Women smokers are likely to suffer ovulation problems, damage to reproductive organs, damage to eggs and premature menopause. They are exposed to increased risk of miscarriages, premature birth and low birth weight babies.
Many experts say that there is not enough done to create awareness about ill-effects of tobacco consumption. At an individual level, doctors and psychologists can play an important role in helping people quit tobacco habits. At the government level, firm policies and engaging awareness campaigns are required to check the widespread use of tobacco products.
If policy makers and doctors push the prevention of tobacco use, the country will have more funds to support wellness programmes, fix schools and upgrade physical infrastructure across India. All of us thus need to eliminate the menace of tobacco addiction to ensure a healthy environment for our present and future generations.
Dr Giri is a senior cancer surgeon and Director (Oncology Services)
at VPS Rockland Hospital in New Delhi and Manesar.