World No Tobacco Day was observed on Thursday. The focus this year was on addressing interference by the tobacco industry. According to World Health Organisation, the industry has been using intimidating tactics to counter the curb on use of tobacco.

One gets a good understanding of tobacco influence and the insidious way in which advertisements have enticed generations of youngsters from Siddhartha Mukherjee’s Pulitzer-winning book ‘The emperor of all maladies: A biography of cancer’.

The book graphically describes not just novel advertisements but also unwieldy legal battles that American citizens fought and sometimes tragically lost. The sorrow that the disease could cause to entire families and the struggle for justice is skewed because of the enormous power that the tobacco industry wields. In the book, the author describes cases where the tobacco company won by arguing that it issued warnings on its packets about the possible dangers of cigarette smoking.

In India, it is not just cigarettes but also tobacco chewing that has to be tackled. Non-governmental organisations working to prevent cancer have always focused on weaning users from tobacco products, and pointing out the need to address the issue of cultivating tobacco. E. Vidhubala, head, Department of Psycho-oncology and Resource Centre for Tobacco Control, Cancer Institute, once said, “Perhaps we are the only country that has a tobacco control cell and a board to monitor the growth of tobacco cultivation.”

Govini Balasubramani, a consultant cardiothoracic surgeon with Global Hospitals says, every month, he treats at least 10 to 12 patients who suffer from cancer caused by tobacco use. According to him, chronic smokers should come for regular check-ups. There is no safe limit for smoking, he insists, as passive smokers are equally at risk of coronary heart diseases.

The 2010 statistics from the Chest Medicine Department show that of the 2.45 lakh patients it received, 7,832 had malignancy in the lungs. D. Ranganathan, Professor of Chest Medicine at the Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital, said, malignant lung cancers, especially in women, are on the rise. Although risk factors included environmental and industrial pollution and burning of garbage, a number of women were victims of passive smoking.

Quitting is not difficult if one has the will, doctors say. About seven years ago, at the Cancer Institute in Adyar, a man invited to participate in a programme on World No Tobacco Day told me he quit smoking because his daughter, then just eight years old, refused to come near him. “I was a chain smoker,” he told me. “Neither my wife nor my daughter wanted to come near me because I smelt of cigarettes all the time. After I stopped smoking, all that changed,” he said matter-of-factly.

Population Services International, India, has also introduced a service for those who wish to quit. Interested persons can call 1-800-266-0-366 or e-mail at wishtoquit@psi.org.in for details. The organisation follows the American Cancer Society protocol and offers counselling to help kick that butt.

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R. SujathaJune 28, 2012