Kicking the Tobacco Habit

According to the free encyclopedia Wikipedia, World No Tobacco Day is observed around the world every year on May 31. It is meant to encourage a 24-hour period of abstinence from all forms of tobacco consumption across the globe. And importantly, the day is further intended to draw global attention to the widespread prevalence of tobacco use and to negative health effects, which currently lead to 5.4 million deaths worldwide annually. In fact even in our small state of Nagaland statistics related to tobacco consumption is quite horrifying. As per a survey of Government of India, more than 50 % of the people in Nagaland are tobacco users. This statistic is indeed a matter of deep concern for all of us. A recent study on tobacco use among students in the eight North-eastern states of India has further revealed some frightening details. Over 65% of users reported initiation at 10 years of age or earlier in all states except Mizoram. The range of current tobacco use (any product) was 63% (Nagaland) to 36.1% (Assam). Current smokeless tobacco use ranged from 49.9% (Nagaland) to 25.3% (Assam). The study concludes that tobacco use including smoking was very high, even among girls, in all eight states in the North-eastern part of India.
Unfortunately, our Christian State of Nagaland is a leader in tobacco use. But why is this so? For many years now it has been observed that tobacco consumption among the Nagas has increased. Today it has become a socially accepted habit. Who can blame our children for taking tobacco when parents themselves indulge in such habits? According to the recent studies, it was found (not surprisingly) that tobacco use by parents and close friends was positively associated with young people’s current tobacco use. Also because it is not categorized as an ‘illegal substance’ tobacco in its various forms and manifestation has become ubiquitous. Attempts made to ban such items as gutkha has also failed. And even if we are to successfully enforce such a ban on a single item, what about cigarettes, beedis and kaini (chewing tobacco). Tobacco in various forms is a favourite in government offices, within the police force, colleges and even schools. Also because of its easy availability and given that it is inexpensive (unlike drugs and foreign liquor) it is part of the common man’s diet whether it is in the villages or urban areas. The popular ‘Pan shop’ in every nook and corner of the State ensures easy access. There is no regulation of any sort and so even children can easily buy them.
The fight against tobacco consumption is not going to be easy. But we need to do something about this killer habit. Tobacco control and its enforcement must be bolstered. We need to do more to create mass awareness on the ill effects of tobacco consumption. The State Health & Family Welfare Department should design appropriate messages both in English and local dialects and undertake awareness campaign across the State. This should be done not just on the occasion of World No Tobacco Day but much beyond. Different mass forums can also be identified such the Church, schools, colleges, festivals, youth events, road-shows etc. to disseminate information on the killer substance. According to a recent data made available during the year 1999, India reportedly spent Rs 27,761 crore for treatment of tobacco-related diseases whereas the Government of India earned Rs. 6,018 crore as Excise Duty from tobacco products in the same year. Clearly even the business side of tobacco use is nothing compared to the greater cost involved in the health and well being of human life itself. This is one bad habit we must kick.