Why Human Health and the War on Tobacco are Non-negotiable

Why Human Health and the War on Tobacco are Non-negotiable

  • Oncology (Cancer)

Remember the iconic Marlboro Man campaign that created an irresistible aura for smokers? While the cowboy smoking on horseback captivated generations – catapulting Marlboro as the world’s No.1 tobacco brand – there’s little doubt the campaign played a dubious role in making millions of smokers victims of debilitating diseases and death.

As we commemorate World No Tobacco Day on 31 May, it’s important to recognise the role of tobacco and cigarettes in the healthcare mayhem arising from cancer-causing habits such as smoking and tobacco chewing. The tobacco scourge is so widespread even a senior Maharashtra politician fell victim to oral cancer. While the well-heeled have the resources to recover from cancer, common persons cannot always afford expensive cancer treatments. The devastating impact on middle-class families can well be imagined when their breadwinner is afflicted.

It’s not just smoking that’s harmful; even indirect or passive smoke can kill or maim. Besides oral cancer, tobacco causes or aggravates various serious ailments, including lung cancer, chronic respiratory diseases, cardiovascular ailments, asthma, TB, etc. Moreover, since tobacco smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals (69 rated carcinogenic), it is one of the deadliest indoor air pollutants. Whereas the smoke is sometimes odourless and invisible, it may linger in the air for almost five hours. Therefore, even non-smokers are at potential risk for reduced lung function, chronic respiratory ailments as well as oral and lung cancer.

The WHO reveals more than 50% of adults in India have no idea smoking can trigger stroke. Sadly, even in-utero infants exposed to tobacco toxins (via maternal smoking or the mother’s exposure to ambient smoke) can experience lower lung function and impaired growth. Kids exposed to passive smoke risk the onset and exacerbation of pneumonia, asthma and frequent infections of the lower respiratory tract. Consequently, about 165,000 kids die globally before turning five. Those surviving into adulthood then continue suffering the consequences arising from second-hand smoke exposure, including the increased risk of contracting COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) as adults.

Incredibly, tobacco is the only major legally-available killer product! Which is why tobacco is the chief cause of easily-preventable deaths and diseases universally. In India, nearly 232 million adults consume tobacco daily, while 266 million persons (those above 15 years) use tobacco in some form or the other. These statistics are as per the Global Adult Tobacco Survey, released in June 2018 by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. Worldwide, the WHO says more than seven million persons die annually due to active or passive smoking.

Across the world, the WHO reveals some 10.6 million acres of land is used for growing tobacco. Given the harmful effects of tobacco use, its growth and usage need to be controlled. Yet, nationally and internationally, the tobacco industry spins a false narrative about how any ban on tobacco use will hurt the government’s tax and revenue generation efforts. This argument is meaningless when we consider that multiple times the amount is spent on healthcare costs for people afflicted with life-threatening or debilitating tobacco-linked ailments. Clearly, human health and well-being must always remain a non-negotiable instrument in such scenarios.

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