Tobacco consumption on the rise in rural women: Report

Tobacco consumption on the rise in rural women: Report

Tobacco consumption among women in rural India has increased from 13.67% in NFHS-4 to 17.83% in NFHS-5

Tobacco consumption in rural and urban areas is driven by different factors. Credit: DH Photo

An analysis of tobacco consumption in seven states and Union territories, including Karnataka, has found increased use among women in rural areas, raising concerns that children are being conditioned from a younger age to start using tobacco.

In a report by the Delhi-based think-tank, AF Development Centre (AFDC), the researchers note that based on the latest NFHS-5 data (2019-2020) tobacco consumption among women in rural India has increased from 13.67 per cent in NFHS-4 to 17.83 per cent in NFHS-5. 

While the report focuses on Karnataka, Assam, Gujarat, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, the data shows that the increase is prevalent in all states except Manipur, Meghalaya and Nagaland. 

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Sachi Satapathy, the principal investigator and director of AFDC, pointed out that cigarette smoking prevalence was highest in Odisha and Karnataka with 62.50 per cent and 63.68 per cent respectively. “Cigarette consumption is primarily limited to cities. But in rural areas, the prevalence of smoking bidi is highest in Karnataka at 35.32 per cent,” he added.

Among smokeless tobacco, gutka-use was highest in Gujarat (69.16 per cent) and lowest in Uttar Pradesh (24.25 per cent). Use of chewing tobacco, meanwhile, was highest in Assam (30.07 per cent), followed by Karnataka and Jammu & Kashmir (28 per cent).

Tobacco consumption in rural and urban areas is driven by different factors, explained Associate Professor R Sarala of International Institute of Health Management Research (IIHMR), Bengaluru, who co-authored the study.

“In urban areas, cigarette smoking among college-going girls is on the rise, driven by peer-pressure and within the middle class and IT crowd, by a combination of fear-stress. However, in rural areas, while bidis are consumed by men, smokeless tobacco consumption is prevalent among women, because it is not taboo. This is problematic as it has the same end result on health,” Dr Sarala said.

Effects on kids

This also has collateral effects on children. The study found that 18 per cent of women tend to send children to buy tobacco products as opposed to 5 per cent of men. This leads to tobacco initiation in children at an early stage, researchers cautioned.

“This also shows that the laws are not being followed by the shop owners, as they are not allowed to sell tobacco products to the under-18 age category,” they noted.

Low taxation of bidis and smokeless tobacco is also to blame for consumption, Dr Sarala added.

“If current trends continue, a huge chunk of the Indian population will die prematurely from tobacco-related disease,” Satapathy said.

“India’s fulfillment of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control has been erratic. Many states are reporting gaps in the law, plus pathetic regulatory surveillance, and overall defiance, as found in this research work. We need to re-strategise our work on tobacco control, including taxation and drafting of legislation, as the ground-level implementation is weak as found from this study.”

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