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Saying bye to bidi
Meeta Chaitanya
Atlanta, December 26, 2006
First Published: 14:48 IST(26/12/2006)
Last Updated: 14:48 IST(26/12/2006)

Let's face it; the statutory warning on cigarette packs serves as just that- official, acceptable, chartered information that basically tells you what you know already but choose to glean over, if you happen to be a smoker- it kills.

Same goes for other tobacco products - pipes, bidis, kreteks, chewing tobacco, hookah or the water pipe. Nicotine addiction, the main culprit of the irreversible ramifications of tobacco consumption is not something that is limited to cigarettes alone.

According to a WHO report, in India, bidis are the most used type of tobacco and although figures for tobacco consumption in the country are not as alarming as they could be, it comes as little surprise that soon, India will be setting up a tobacco testing laboratory in collaboration with WHO and Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Atlanta.

The laboratory will reportedly trace tobacco and nicotine content in related products, domestic and foreign. It will test also the percentage of tar and carbon monoxide in tobacco products. From reports in the media, it would seem that Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss is optimistic about the process as an effective tool in the fight against cancer and other diseases caused by tobacco consumption.

Experts on the subject agree generally that one of the most important ways of implementing the anti-tobacco drive globally is curbing the use and intake of such products locally, and in their local versions.

In this light, this Ahmedabad-based lab, the biggest in the region is sure to be a good start.  CDC's technical know-how and expertise should provide the center sufficient wherewithal to be able to trace harmful components in various products.

Once it is operational, the lab will be able to test cigarettes, bidis and cigars to verify information regarding percentage of nicotine in these products. This initiative, set to spearhead the Health Ministry's drive against tobacco, is likely to be they key program in this regard.

In addition, the Ministry seems to have woken up to the fact also of the inefficacy of stark verbal warnings on cigarette packs. India's decision to make pictorial warnings mandatory on tobacco packets comes as a step in the right direction.

Aside from being additional information, pictorial warnings will be the primary warning for the uneducated, addicted many. Such warnings, made compulsory for all tobacco products including bidis are likely to promote the hope for a tobacco free environment.

This puff-buster has created ripples for other reasons too. In Atlanta's overwhelmingly dominant Gujrati Indian community, this comes as a cause to celebrate. In fact, the diaspora community as a whole feels intrinsically connected with this leap towards better health for compatriots back home. In the many not-so-heartening firsts, this is one that makes us all proud.

Here too we can see parents attempt to fend off abusive and addictive substances as cigarettes, drugs and keep their children thoroughly insulated to their ensnarement. Whether it's a bidi or a syringe, the need to wean a society off it is significant everywhere.

Of course, the connection between Atlanta and Ahmedabad is not lost on those local Indian-Americans who wish to contribute positively in the developmental metamorphoses of their motherland but cannot owing to lack of direction, resources, mobility, amongst other things.

In spirit however, they remain committed to this endeavor to kick the butt and say hush to hash for good.


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