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Social Work
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The Worst Policy Excuse of all!
World No Tobacco Day on May 31 presents yet Another Occasion to bring out The Shameless Excuses by The Indian Government in allowing The Tobacco Industry to continue in its current form.
Issue Date - 26/05/2011
The general indifference and the often blasé attitude most of our politicians show towards tobacco use in this country, which the World Health Organisation predicts will have the fastest rate of mortality due to tobacco use in the first two decades of this century, is quite shocking. Strange it may seem but gloomy statistics against consumption of tobacco have hardly had any deterrent effect so far nor have they proved a strong motivator for the Indian government to finish off the industry, as it is in its current form.

According to various estimates, the number of tobacco users in India (10 years and above) is around 250 million, comprising urban and rural male and female. Medical research says there exists an incontrovertible proof of link between smoking and disease and the two share quite an inseparable relationship. Be it coronary heart diseases like stroke, respiratory diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases and pneumonia, adverse reproductive abnormalities or even cancer, the harmful effects of tobacco-use are almost always certain to leave its fingerprints behind. In fact, smoking and tobacco consumption have been found to cause a host of other maladies: cataract, adverse complications related to slow wound healing and respiratory problems, low bone density and risks of hip fracture and peptic ulcers. If the above familiar medical conditions fail to ring the alarm bells then the following information will surely give us the intimations of mortality. An urban study in Mumbai has reported that the risk of dying is more than 50% higher for smokers and every year 700,000 to 10,00,000 deaths in India are caused by smoking.

While health-related risks of tobacco-use are hard to overlook, its economic ill-effects are no less disturbing. Smoking is sure to damage health but no less deleterious is its effect on our economic well-being and prosperity. In a report by WHO titled Tobacco Increases The Poverty Of Individuals and Families, it is said that in most countries, tobacco use tends to be higher among the poor. They spend a large part of their income on tobacco, which could have otherwise been spent on meeting basic human needs such as food, shelter, education and health care. Globally, 84% of smokers live in developing countries and transitional economies around the world. A study of smoking prevalence among men in Chennai in 1997 showed that the highest rate of smoking occurred among the illiterate population (64%). As India is still a developing country, it’s really shameful to see how powerless we are in freeing ourselves from the bondage of such unhealthy addiction, which is leaching away our economic wealth at both individual and national levels.

The social, ecological and environmental impact of tobacco-use are equally harmful and a matter of great concern. Smokers put to risk not just their own health and wellness but they also become a menace to the health and well-being of those in their vicinity. Children are especially susceptible to passive smoking and are likely to inhale about the same amount of nicotine as an active smoker. As such they are 40% more likely to suffer from symptoms of asthma and other respiratory problems. People who never smoke but live within the vicinity of smokers have a 30% greater risk of developing lung cancer. They are also likely to suffer from heart diseases, heart attacks and sudden death due to heart failure. Smoking leaves a large toxic footprint on our ecology and environment too. It leads to deforestation, displaces indigenous flora and fauna, destroys the predator-prey relationship and leads to contamination of soil and water bodies due to the chemicals used in tobacco farming.

The statistics are hardly comforting but they serve to remind civil society and the government of our moral obligations to push for greater initiatives to curb tobacco consumption and its prevalence. Not that the government has not taken any initiatives. In 1975, it enacted the Cigarettes (Regulation of Production, Supply and Distribution) Act, which made it mandatory to display a statutory health warning on all packages and advertisements of cigarette. There were further restrictions on tobacco trade in the 1980s and 1990s. The Indian Parliament passed the ‘Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products’ (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce relating to Production, Supply and Distribution) Bill 2003, which gradually became an Act on May 18 2003, and was enforced from May 1, 2004. The Act bans smoking in public places, checks against direct and indirect advertising of tobacco products sales to minors, and gives out pictorial health warnings, testing and regulation norms.


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