With the world observing the No Tobacco Day today, the medial fraternity involved in treatment of head and neck cancer has urged the Government to formulate an awareness campaign on the perils of tobacco consumption on the lines of the Pulse Polio campaign so that the message reaches far and wide and more and more people are educated.
According to Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS), tobacco use is a major preventable cause of death. According to the World Health organisation (WHO), tobacco causes 22 % deaths (about 5.5 million) every year the world over and India accounts for nearly one-fifth of this. Now, that is a shocking figure!
While health experts welcome the recent Supreme Court order wherein the Apex Court has asked the cigarette producers to comply with the new regulation of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India, regarding the increase in the size of the pictorial warning on the front and back panels of cigarette packets to 85%, they want a multipronged approach to tackle this issue.
The pictorial warning is part of Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Product Act (COTPA) 2003 which stipulates that all specified warnings on tobacco products should be legible, prominent and conspicuous in size and colour.
The theme of this year’s World No Tobacco Day is “Plain Packaging”. Plain packaging of tobacco products is an important demand reduction measure as it reduces the attractiveness of tobacco products, restricts the use of tobacco packaging as a form of advertising, limits misleading packaging and labeling as well as increases effectiveness of health warning.
Medical professionals say that apart from graphic warnings, mass media campaigns and alternative crop options for tobacco growers are the important steps that need to be taken to educate people so as to minimise the estimated 800,000-900,000 tobacco-attributed deaths every year in India.
“This is a complex issue. In the US, we see no pictorial warnings on the cigarette packs while we have it in India. The reason is that the US has a very high literacy rate and the awareness levels are automaticaly higher while the literacy rate is dismal in our country,” says Dr V P Singh, consultant, Surgical Oncology, Institutes of Cancer, Indraprastha Apollo Hospital, New Delhi.
“I feel if the Government really wants to stop people from smoking, it must ban its production. But then it is a high revenue-generating industry and no one wants to lose the excise tax generated from it. I feel political will is lacking on this front,” he says, adding, “Also the shops selling tobacco products should not be located near educational institutions. While the law prohibits it, there is no enforcement. There are plenty of schools that have shops selling tobacco and related products within 15 m of their boundary walls.”
Dr Kakoli Purkayastha, Senior Scientist, Department of Pediatric Oncology, AIIMS-Delhi opined that enlarged pictorial warnings on cigarette packets showing the harm tobacco causes is a vital step in educating people about the perils of smoking. “But a lot more needs to be done to reduce tobacco consumption rate among the majority of habitual smokers,” she says.
Dr Purkayastha also informs that AIIMS on its part does a lot of awareness programmes. “We hold a public lecture annually, have a monthly patient education programme and various innovative activities for kids. We even distribute educational material to the participants still I feel we need sustained nationwide campaigns with wider reach that can impact a large number of people across the country,” she adds.
“India is the world capital for head and neck cancer, thanks to consumption of tobacco, gutka and khaini,” says Dr Sandeep Chatrath, CEO, Central Region, Apollo Hospitals. “I have 10 hospitals in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Odisha and we get several cases of cancer of that develop in or around throat, larynx, nose, sinuses and mouth. Agrees Dr Singh, “We get so many cases of such cancers and all are due to consumption of tobacco. All cush cases are males.”
“At our level, we undertake programmes to make people aware about the harmful effects of consuming tobacco but if the Government plans an initiative at the national level, it will be a good step towards generating awareness on this issue,” adds Dr Chatrath. “The Government must levy heavy taxes on such industries. Pulse Polio campaign could be carried as polio is a different kind of disease. It has no financial implications,” says Dr Singh.
As a positive step in this direction from the Government’s end, the Union Health Minister JP Nadda launched the country’s first Tobacco Cessation Quitline that aims to guide tobacco addicts to “kick the butt” with counselling. The National Tobacco Cessation Quitline, situated at Vallabhbhai Patel Chest Institute in the National Capital, will be open six days a week except Monday. The helpline 1800112356 will be operational between 0800 hours and 2000 hours.