Anti-tobacco drive, a tough crusade

Anti-tobacco drive, a tough crusade

As the number of tobacco users in the world is reducing across the developed nations, countries like India still have a long way to go. Looking at the latest Global Adult Tobacco Survey for India (GATS 2010), we have over 275 million tobacco users in the  year 2009-2010 (over 35% of adults), a majority of them (over 25%) used smokeless tobacco and 42 million used both forms of tobacco.

It is estimated that over a million people die from tobacco usage, in some form or the other, each year in India. We need to take a strong step forward in the campaign to reduce the use of tobacco. One of the main initiatives should be directed at preventing non users from being initiated into the fold of tobacco users. With over half the tobacco users in the country dying from tobacco related ailments, only cessation related services can help save millions of lives lost each year.

There has been a proactive move from tobacco users in India as over 38% of users tried to quit on their own. Additionally, the Department of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India, has set up around 20 tobacco cessation clinics around the country and the 2010 GATS survey shows that over 46% of users managed to quit with help from healthcare centres. Studies have shown that with a mixture of behavioural intervention and pharmacotherapy, all tobacco users can quit this dreadful habit.

Additionally, a lot of hospitals and NGO’s across the country have taken it upon themselves to raise awareness against the usage of tobacco products. Many of them even have mobile units that travel around the neighbouring rural areas, performing scans and talking to the people about the dangers of tobacco consumption.

TB, cancer
Another factor that tobacco users don’t seem to take into consideration is the great deal of suffering that the users go through due to tobacco usage. Instances of tuberculosis and cancer are widely seen along with heart attacks and stroke. It not only affects the user themselves, physically, emotionally and financially, but also has a large effect on the family of the users.

But as the effect does not show itself immediately, users tend to ignore the warnings until it is too late. Many also live in denial of the symptoms as they are not mentally ready to accept that they are on the wrong path. Hence the first step towards cessation is to accept that usage of tobacco products is an issue, and that no one is immune.

The youth are also very prone to start using tobacco products especially as it is viewed as something to aspire towards or as something that is ‘cool’ to do. This usually leads to the youth either getting addicted to tobacco usage or face behavioural changes in order to continue the use of tobacco products. A major factor that leads to youth tobacco usage as per the Global Youth Tobacco Survey (GYTS 2010) over 24% thought that those who smoke have more friends and feel more attractive to their peers.

Often this is not the case and later on there is remorse. The study shows that over 60% of youth wanted to stop and over 90% have received help in some form or the other to quit tobacco use. Schools and seminars do play a big role in cessation of tobacco usage in youth as over 60% of users have received some form of information on the dangers of tobacco usage or were involved in such discussions at school or at the seminar.

Though quitting outright (or ‘going cold turkey’ as the term goes) is considered the best way towards cessation of tobacco usage, the side effects in the immediate period includes irritability, depression, hunger pangs and cravings and confusion. This is another deterrent to the cessation of tobacco use.

Hence, doctors suggest that a mixture of one-on-one or group counselling, anti tobacco education, doctor consultations, and pharmacological aid that can help a person to permanently quit this dirty habit.

(The writer is Senior Consultant, Surgical Oncology, Mazumdar Shaw Cancer Centre, Narayana Health City, Bengaluru)

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