Indian men smoke less now, thanks to anti-tobacco law

Smoking habit among Indian men has come down in the last three decades, suggesting a beneficial effect of the anti-tobacco legislation and campaign at least in urban pockets.

But the prevalence among women remains static at 3.2 per cent. When translated into numbers, it means India is home to more than 1.2 crore of women smokers – second to the US where smoking among women is commonplace.

The statistics comes out from an analysis of globally available tobacco data from 187 countries by researchers at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.

Published in the January 8 edition of the Journal of American Medical Association, the data illustrates how India made progress in reducing smoking at least among men. Smoking is the third top risk for health loss in India, leading to nearly one million deaths each year. But between 1980 and 2012, prevalence among Indian men decreased from 33.8 to 23 per cent. Smokers in India on an average consume eight cigarettes a day.

Though the study talks about cigarettes, public health researchers feel the declining trend would not have been observed without taking into account both cigarette and bidi. “Moreover, we do not know how much of these people who quit smoking, has switched to chewing tobacco,” K Srinath Reddy, president of the Public Health Foundation of India told Deccan Herald.

“While education and law helped sensitise at least urban, the campaign against would continue as women are vulnerable. Bidi smoking too is rampant and it is too early to even evaluate whether the ban on gutka has any impact,” said Reddy, who is not connected to the study. The chewing tobacco (gutka) is banned in most of the states in India under the food safety law.

In a recent Global Burden of Disease (GBD) study, the same group of researchers pointed out tobacco use (excluding second-hand smoke) led to nearly one million deaths in India. In addition, 6.1 per cent of years of life is lost due to premature death and 5.1 per cent of health loss in India is attributed to tobacco consumption.

These developments in India have taken place against an increasingly complex global backdrop. Worldwide daily tobacco smoking declined by 25 per cent among men and 42 per cent in women between 1980 and 2012.

At the same time, the number of cigarette consumed globally increased by 26 per cent in a clear indication of growth in tobacco market. This was attributed to 41 per cent rise in global population in the last three decades.

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