Today, (4th February, 2016) as the world observes World Cancer Day, I came across a disturbing fact which highlights that India has one of the highest cancer rates in the world. Further, one of the top causes of cancer in India is tobacco. Now, I am not going to spew out statistics and figures regarding the number of people who get cancer due to tobacco and also the number of people who die because of it. The reason for this is simple. We all know that tobacco causes cancer, as there have been innumerable studies that support this proposition. Yet, the number of tobacco users keep on increasing each year.
What is the reason for this? Is it due to addiction to nicotine or due to lack of public awareness regarding the harmful effects of tobacco. The answer is both. A person who smokes about 2-3 packs of cigarettes/bidis in a day, finds it extremely difficult to quit this habit, as the smoker experiences withdrawal symptoms due to the highly addictive nature of nicotine. Another reason people don’t stop smoking is the lack of public awareness (especially in rural areas) or spreading of misinformation. For example, I have come across many people who believe that leading an otherwise healthy lifestyle by jogging, cycling, etc. cancels out the harmful effects of smoking cigarettes/bidis. However, that cannot be further from the truth because the fact remains that the higher the number of cigarettes one smokes, the higher the risk of cancer.
Furthermore, in India, many people chew tobacco in the form of gutka, pan masala, etc. which causes mouth cancer. This is usually popular amongst the rural population because it is easily available and also cheap to buy. As a result, many children, as young as 5-7 years start chewing tobacco. Recognising the harmful effects of chewing tobacco, many State Governments in India have banned the sale of gutka. Although this is a commendable step, illegal sale of gutka still occurs due to its popularity. Hence, there is a need to spread awareness regarding the harmful effects of smoking/chewing tobacco, especially amongst the rural population.
Another disturbing trend seen across India is that of passive smoking being one of the leading causes of cancer. Passive smoking or second-hand smoke is where a person breathes in other person’s smoke from a cigarette/bidi. Usually, a person smokes when he/she is within the vicinity of his/her friend or family. As a result, the smoker is unwittingly, not only killing himself/herself, but also slowly killing his/her loved ones and friends.
Thus, only by spreading public awareness regarding the harmful effects of using tobacco products will we able to discourage people from using tobacco products. In this regard, the Indian Government has taken steps to ensure that public becomes aware by showing public safety advertisements in theatres and by mandating tobacco companies to display health warnings on tobacco products. However, the Government alone cannot spread awareness. We, as citizens should discourage usage of tobacco products and spread the information regarding the harmful effects of tobacco. We can help by starting smoking groups for people who wish to stop smoking but are unable to do so, due to their addiction to tobacco. Further, counselling and homeopathy have also been proven to be successful in helping a person quit smoking.
So, to everyone who reads this, let us all join hands and pledge to kick the butt and also help others to kick the butt!
Utsav is currently working as an Associate at Fox and Mandal, Solicitors and Advocates.