World no tobacco day is celebrated on 31st May, every year. This initiative was taken by World Health Organization (WHO) in 1987 to draw everyone’s attention towards the tobacco epidemic. This annual campaign has a different theme each year. This year the theme is ‘commit to quit”.
The day gives us an opportunity to spread awareness regarding the harmful effects of this deadly poison. In our country, tobacco is not only smoked but is chewed in the form of pan, pan masala, jarda, mawa, khaini etc. It is also available in forms that are applied or kept inside the mouth in the form of quid, mishri, tooth powder and tooth paste. As India is the second largest producer of tobacco, it is readily available in inexpensive forms. In fact, we are the third largest consumer of tobacco in the whole world. As per Global adult tobacco survey (GATS), India 2016-17, 42.4% of men, 14.2% of women and 28.6% of all adults amounting to 266.8 million, consume tobacco in one or another form. High incidence of tobacco consumption in kids is unique problem in our country. Almost 14.6% of children between 13-15 years are addicted to this deadly substance. Passive smoking, which is equally harmful is another big problem. As per GATS survey, 30.2% of Indian adults are exposed to passive smoking at workplaces, 13.3% are exposed during public transportation and 7.4% are exposed at restaurants. For children aged 13-15 years the figures are even more alarming. As per the India Global Youth Tobacco Survey (GYTS), India 2009 almost 36.6% of children aged 13-15 years are exposed to secondhand smoke in public places and 21.9% are exposed at home.
Tobacco is the main cause of mouth cancer and lung cancer, the first and second most common cancers in Indian males respectively. Mouth cancer is also the number one cause for cancer related deaths in our country. Every year approximately 1 lakh new cases of mouth cancers are detected in India and approximately half of them die within one year of diagnosis. Tobacco consumption leads to cancers of other organs as well such as voice box, pharynx, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, cervix, bladder, breast etc.
Tobacco smoke damages lung tissue and impairs oxygen carrying capacity of lung. Smoking also triggers the immune system of body which in turn releases harmful substances, further compromising the lung health. Chronic smokers often develop chronic obstructive lung disease and bronchitis. The lung health has become very important in today’s time of covid -19 pandemic. SARS-CoV-2 infection adversely affects immune system and damages lung tissue. When a smoker with deranged lung function develops covid – 19 infection, outcomes are poorer. As per WHO latest report, smokers have 40%-50% higher risk of developing severe disease and death from covid -19 infection.
Apart from cancer and lung problems, tobacco use can lead to various other diseases affecting nearly every organ in our body. Coronary artery disease leading to heart attacks, peripheral vascular disease causing necrosis and gangrene of toes, tobacco related amblyopia resulting in blindness are few of the serious illnesses caused by this deadly substance. Tobacco is a man-made epidemic. Mandatory 85% pictorial warning labels on tobacco products, banning sale, distribution and consumption of tobacco and related products in various states, ban on smoking at public places, statutory warnings in cinema halls are the few initiatives taken by our government. However, the best strategy to fight this tobacco epidemic would be to create awareness and discourage its use among people.
Benefits of quitting tobacco are proven beyond doubt. However, it is a difficult habit to quit. Nicotine, the addictive component in tobacco causes physiological and behavioral dependence. Withdrawal symptoms are temporary and non-life threatening which subside on their own. Determination and commitment to quit is the best tool to overcome behavioral dependence. Support of friends and family is often helpful in getting rid of this habit. In case of difficulty one can avail the help from toll free national quit lines and tobacco cessation programs which provide psychological counselling and /or pharmacological support. Tobacco quitters are the real winners. Take a pledge to quit tobacco in any form. Make everyday a “No tobacco day”!