When it comes to smoking, there are no safe levels of exposure. Even thirdhand tobacco smoke — a term used to describe toxic residue from cigarette smoke trapped in rooms, cars, upholstery and clothes — causes cancer and impacts lung development in children, even hours after you’ve stopped smoking.
Apart from raising risk of cancers, heart and lung diseases, it raises children’s risk of mental and behavioural disorders, including attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.Though India bans the sale of tobacco to minors, almost 1 in 10 (9.6%) 15 to 17-year-olds use some form of tobacco bought themselves, showed the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) India 2010, the last nationwide data on tobacco use in India.
The data, collected from 70,000 people across 29 states and two union territories, showed Mizoram had the highest number of tobacco users — 67% while Goa had the lowest at 9%.
Addiction starts young, with two in five users saying they had started before the age of 18, with 25.8% women users starting before 15.
“In India there’s a high prevalence of smokeless forms of consuming tobacco like chewing, which is at an all-time high,” says Pankaj Chaturvedi, associate professor of head and neck cancer, Tata Memorial Hospital in Mumbai, and part of the health ministry’s scientific committee on tobacco use.
“Children are more susceptible to the health risks of tobacco use. That’s why all schools should be declared smokefree and implement the ban on the sale of tobacco within a 100-yard radius of a school,” says Monika Arora, director, Hriday-Shan, a national NGO working with the Central Board of Secondary Education to make schools smoke-free.
Smokeless tobacco has made India home to two-fifth of the world’s oral cancers. “Rising use of smokeless tobacco — chewing, applying to the teeth and gums or sniffing — that includes betel quid with tobacco, khaini, gutka, paan masala, mishri, mawa, gul, bajjar, gudakhu and snuff is a big concern, as it causes 2 lakh new oral cancers in the country every year,” says Dr Chaturvedi.
“Mass marketing of tobacco and areca nut for as little as R 1 makes it accessible to children, who later graduate to smoking. Since there is no quality control, manufacturers add additives like methanol and lime, which increases the carcinogenic potency of tobacco and areca nut,” he says.
Inhale, at your own risk
The trouble, say experts, is that people don’t take health risks seriously till confronted with the consequences. “Then they consider quitting,” says Arora, citing GATS data that found 3 in 5 current tobacco users (61.1%) noticed health warning on tobacco packs and 1 in 3 (31.5%) thought of quitting because of them.
Earlier this week, health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad announced that new pictorial warnings will be seen on tobacco packs from December 1 2011. These will be ‘harsher’ for chewing tobacco as it has been found more harmful than smoking.Tobacco use causes 1 in 10 deaths worldwide, killing 5.5 million globally, of which 1 million deaths occur in India. According to Indian Council of Medical Research, its use causes 50% cancer cases in men, 25% in women and almost 40% of India’s tuberculosis deaths. "We don’t want to ban tobacco. Under the current law, it’s a legal substance. The health ministry is against smokeless tobacco being added to food substances such as gutka and mouthfreshners, which are regulated and banned under the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act," says Dr Chaturvedi.