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A habit that consumes precious lives

K.V. Prasad
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The Department of Public Health and Preventive Medicine to carry out an anti-tobacco campaign in all the 47 PHCs of Coimbatore district

While picking the habit in school, 28-year-old Ramesh (name changed) did not scent the trouble that was in store for him. The pan masala smelt and tasted good. It gave a feeling of well-being until some years down the line.

Today, he is fed liquid diet through tubes because he cannot open his mouth. “He suffers from sub-mucosal fibrosis, which inflicts on the patient a condition called trismus. This severely restricts the opening of the jaws to eat and speak. In worst cases, they cannot open their mouth at all,” says Director of Sri Ramakrishna Institute of Oncology and Research P. Guhan.

The cancer specialist explains that sub-mucosal fibrosis is a pre-malignant condition; it is not cancer and does not spell death. But, it can be worse than death because the patient cannot munch even a morsel of food. Every such patient brings this condition upon himself by chewing tobacco.

When he chewed merrily on pan masala and gutka products, little did Ramesh realise that these were actually eating him up.

When Ramesh finally landed in the hospital, the damage was almost irreparable. Dr. Guhan says that Ramesh did not give up even then. He chewed as much of this hazardous items as possible before the problem almost shut his jaws up. In fact, he could not resist. Such was the addiction, which is typical of most people who have taken to pan masala.

“The State Government’s decision to ban pan masala products is laudable. Non-availability will help in reducing consumption. Strict enforcement will help prevent illegal sale. But, the will in the people to abstain will prove the most essential weapon to win the war against tobacco,” says Dr. Guhan.

Ramesh is now desperately looking for a surgical cure. But, it is not possible. He has to live with this condition.

The oncologist also cites the case of a 26-year-old man who died two years ago of cancer caused by tobacco. “He too was a compulsive tobacco chewer and a large portion of his cheek had to be surgically taken out. In a month since radiation and chemotherapy, the cancer resurfaced in the lung and this time he could not be saved.

Dr. Guhan cites these two cases to point out how tobacco chewing and smoking have devastated families.

Health experts point out that pan chewing has not only hit low income families, but also those in higher strata. In addition to endangering the consumer’s health and inflicting economic and psychological stress on the family, the menace of spitting in public also increased with the rise in the number of pan masala chewers.

Campaign at PHCs

The Department of Public Health and Preventive Medicine will carry out an anti-tobacco campaign in all the 47 primary health centres (PHCs) of Coimbatore district.

Being taken up in association with Kovai Medical Center and Hospital (KMCH), the drive on the harmful effects of tobacco will be held once a week at the PHCs along with a medical camp for patients suffering from health problems caused by tobacco.

Deputy Director of Public Health R. Damodharan told The Hindu here on Thursday that this behavioural change programme has been divided to tackle two groups: those who take tobacco in chewable form such as pan masala and non-chewable such as cigarettes and beedis.

In Coimbatore district, he said that the younger generation was being introduced to tobacco mainly through chewable products from which they also picked up smoking.

Chewable tobacco products cause addiction in at least 20 per cent of the first-time users.

KMCH Chairman Nalla G. Palaniswami said peer influence was the major reason for teenagers to take to tobacco.

(with inputs

from R. Sairam)

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