Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Will India finally quit smoking?

If you're an Indian aged between 30 and 70, you are more likely to die from smoking than you are of anything else - including AIDS, malaria, TB, or traffic accidents. India's nicotine addiction kills a staggering 1 million people every year. In India though, cigarette smoking is not the only problem - tobacco is voraciously chewed, sniffed, and even used as toothpaste.

The Indian government's response to this crisis has been dangerously sluggish. Under increasing pressure from the global health community, it has finally stepped up its anti-smoking efforts. But these efforts have been seriously undermined by feeble policymaking.

For instance,
the government agreed this summer that, as in other countries, cigarette packets should feature even more gory pictorial warnings to freak out potential smokers - after all, a picture of someone's jaw dropping off from mouth cancer is probably more likely to give a smoker second thoughts than the current blurry image of diseased lungs. But, inexplicably, although Pakistan has already made these new images mandatory, India has decided to wait until this December before enforcing the policy.

In 2005, the government banned smoking on screen in Bollywood movies. Given the numbers of Indians who flock to movie theatres to watch Bollywood films, this sent a strong public health message that smoking isn't glamorous. But then last year, the Delhi high court overturned the ban because it "violated the fundamental right of film-makers".

The government does seem to be slowly waking up to problem, shamed in part by the fact that NGOs and foreign aid agencies are more active (this year saw a high-profile US$5 million dollar donation by the Gates Foundation to boost anti-tobacco campaigns).

But India faces several challenges. For one thing, chewing tobacco is enormously popular and is far less socially taboo than smoking, which means that its not uncommon to see women and even children chewing
paan (even worse, the tomato-red juice that paan users spit out all over India's streets is also a major hazard in spreading respiratory diseases like TB). Another issue, according to a 2004 report by the Indian ministry of health is making it easier for people to stop smoking - nicotine patches and gum are far too expensive for most people to afford.

The sheer amount of money that tobacco rakes in for the government also spells trouble. Growing tobacco is a major source of income for an agricultural country like India, putting the government in the difficult position of balancing economic growth against the health of its people. For more on this, check out a new BBC World Service documentary that explores these conflicting pressures being faced by developing countries.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the Informasiana
    verywell and thank you.....
    Good article you have here.