Saturday, May 31, 2014

On World No Tobacco Day May 31st 2014

Oral Cancer is the No 1 cancer in Indian males and No 3 in Indian women. The socio-economic and demographic attributes of our country have made it a fertile ground for the tobacco habit and in recent years,a noticeable rise in tobacco consumption is seen especially in the young adults.


In India ,besides Beedis and Cigarettes, tobacco is consumed in various other forms. Pan Masala and Gutka, both a kind of smokeless tobacco is responsible for an irreversible pre-cancerous condition called sub mucous fibrosis. Thanks to its very aggressive advertising and the introduction of easy to procure and store aluminum foil packaging, the sale and consumption of this harmful substance is uncontrolled.


Very popular in both urban and rural populations, tobacco is mixed with lime and chewed; the quid kept inside the oral cavity for long periods of time causing malignant changes to occur. Mishri, that is, burnt tobacco powder, is used to clean teeth and retained in the mouth while snuff is either inhaled in a dry powder form or kept in the mouth as a moist pellet. Tobacco toothpaste is also commonly used. All these are socially accepted forms of tobacco consumption and therefore more difficult to as people to abstain from.


More than 20 lakh youngsters every year join the ever growing community of tobacco users in India without fully comprehending that this habit will result in a chemical dependency on Nicotine that is no different from addiction to heroin or cocaine. Young adults who pick up this habit are at risk of dying prematurely, not necessarily in their old age but in the prime of their lives; losing 20 to 25 years of their productive adult life.


It is essential to reach out to the young and especially amidst their peers as it is during this period, in the company of their friends, that they adopt life style choices that become compulsive: long term habits detrimental to their well being. The resulting disfiguration and loss of life is something that can be prevented.


There has never been any hesitation in reaching out to children and young adults by tobacco companies and using innovative but blatant campaigns to lure them into becoming their customers.


I remember receiving a call a few years ago from the son of a patient I was counseling. He was playing cricket at Shivaji Park, Dadar with his friends and Benson&Hedges was distributing free packets to all the kids there. Whereas in all international magazines that carried tobacco advertisements those days , the Statutory Health warnings were mandatory , I remember the Asian editions of Time and Newsweek , especially, never carried them . In Hong Kong I have seen advertisements for cogarettes cover the whole side of a 30 odd storied edifice.There was no missing the message . 


While street children get addicted to gutka and pan masala for they are cheap and keep hunger at bay, young college going girls get hooked on to cigarettes for it assuages their hunger and supposedly helps keep them thin.


I used to work extensively in this field some years ago . With mill workers, factory workers , women working in the un organised sector, fisher folk , street children, children of sex workers , young school and college going students …and one hoped , over a period of time, that such interventions would bear fruit . But then a couple of days ago I was at a popular restaurant and after dinner as my friend and I stepped out , it was straight into a group of youngsters huddled together and feverishly smoking …….






Lalitha Jairam said...

My sister was diagnosed with oral cancer Stage 4 in May 2014 and we are still wondering how she got it, since she does not smoke, drink alcohol, or chew tobacco or pan or anything else. However, she has since finished seven weeks of radiation and 9 rounds of chemo and is now looking at surgery in the next couple of weeks to remove the affected jawbone. Your site has been informative and encouraging. Thanks.

Viji said...

Lalitha I hope your sister will recover well and all best wishes for her good health . Do let me know if i can be of any help at all . You can write to me at