Central labs to test tobacco products not operational

Central labs to test tobacco products not operational

Central labs to test tobacco products not operational

More than 10 years after India enacted its anti-tobacco legislation, the Centre is yet to ready its network of five tobacco-testing laboratories that would have enabled it to monitor tobacco companies, like seeing whether they are maintaining the required level of tar and nicotine in cigarettes.

The laboratories will evaluate both smoking and smokeless tobacco products, said a health ministry official.

The Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research in Chandigarh has only recently earmarked space for the first tobacco-testing laboratory. It would be followed by four more similar laboratories in Andhra Pradesh, Mumbai, Noida and in the North-East.

The Chandigarh laboratory does not have any equipment as the Centre is in the process of importing the testing machines and kits. Setting up the laboratories, sources said, was part of the 11th Five-Year Plan. But due to poor planning, the project has been pushed to the 12th Plan, delaying the finalisation of regulations on tar and nicotine content of cigarettes and other tobacco products. Tar is the main cancer-causing material in all tobacco products.

Even though more than 10 lakh Indians die due to tobacco use every year, India at any point of time has close to 27.5 crore tobacco users. A majority of them (21 per cent) use smokeless products like gutkha, zarda and khaini; whereas 9 per cent smoke and nearly 5 per cent use both, said Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad while inaugurating an international conference on tobacco here.

Smokeless tobacco use is more prevalent in rural areas compared to cities. Among former smokers, who stopped within a year, as much as 20 per cent people switch to smokeless tobacco as a smoking cessation method, says a study carried out by researchers at Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute of Medical Sciences in Thiruvananthapuram.

“The low quit rate among smokeless tobacco users and high proportion of smokers switching to smokeless tobacco predicts the future burden of smokeless tobacco use in India,” says the study.

Going by a WHO estimate, tobacco killed 10 crore people in the last century, and is estimated to kill 100 crore people in the 21st century, said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in a recorded message.

“Almost 80 per cent of these 100 crore death will come from low and middle-income countries. India and China together will account almost 50-60 per cent of these deaths,” Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) president K Srinath Reddy told Deccan Herald.

But there is good news for smokers trying to quit. A PHFI study suggests that a brief tobacco-cessation intervention may actually help tobacco users quit the deadly habit.

After being coached on the ill-effects of tobacco and trained on yogic breathing exercises to curb the urge, close to 1,200 volunteers participated.