Passive smoking has its own health hazards, but even persons eking out a living by rolling beedis are not spared.
About 78% beedi rollers, who were surveyed by the Cancer Institute in Adyar, were found to suffer from one ailment or the other — cancer, tuberculosis, respiratory disorders, chronic cold and cough, gynaecological problems or skin diseases. In fact, 80.4% of the workers were willing to switch to an alternative livelihood.
The need for providing alternative livelihood for beedi rollers and tobacco cultivators has long been discussed for tobacco control.
The Cancer Institute recently started taking it forward by reaching out to beedi rollers in Vellore and Tirunelveli districts, and farmers in Dindigul.
The initiative, “Alternative Livelihood for Beedi Rollers and Crop Diversification for Tobacco Cultivators”, was rolled out a few years ago, but has been implemented in a full-fledged manner in the last two years.
Under this, the institute’s department of psycho-oncology and Resource Centre for Tobacco Control recently surveyed pockets in Vellore and Tirunelveli.
“It is primarily a cottage industry. We surveyed at least 500 beedi rollers — 121 in Vellore and 379 in Tirunelveli. The workers were predominantly women — 92.6% to be precise. They have to roll more than 1,000 beedis a day for a wage ranging from ₹130-150,” said V. Surendran, associate professor and head of the department.
He added that 78% of them had ailments such as cancer, TB, respiratory and lung diseases, irritability of eyes, gynaecological disorders and skin problems, besides backache and posture problems.
“Nearly 80.4% were willing to shift to an alternative livelihood,” he said.
The Cancer Institute, along with Equitas and Self Employment Training Institute, has organised training for them. Apart from orientation, they were informed about the availability of finance and job opportunities.
“We are planning to approach corporate companies for help to get job opportunities for them. We could provide vocational training in cell phone repair, tailoring, driving, embroidery, air-condition mechanics and fabric painting,” he said.
With Dindigul accounting for a little over 1,000 hectares of tobacco cultivation, the institute has reached out to farmers through two workshops.
Tobacco is mainly cultivated in Oddanchatram, Reddiarchatram, and also in Thoppampatti and Vedasandur, according to Divyaraj Prabhakar, a psychologist at the department.
“The Tobacco Development Board provides tobacco seeds to these farmers. They get a yield of 4,500-6,000 kg per hectare at an investment of ₹6,000. Farmers say the 100-day crop is drought resistant and does not require plenty of manpower for harvesting. The produce is procured by the board,” said Divyaraj Prabhakar, a psychologist at the department.
“Farmers are willing to shift to other crops, but getting a price and market for their produce is a concern. The government has to take measures to help them,” Dr. Surendran added.