Hell at Fag's End

NATURE IN TUNE WITH MAN : Symbolic of society's attitude to smoking bans The creeper covers the 'smoking' part

NATURE IN TUNE WITH MAN : Symbolic of society's attitude to smoking bans The creeper covers the 'smoking' part  

MARK TWAIN said: "To cease smoking is the easiest thing I ever did. I ought to know because I have done it a thousand times." Which sums up the addictive potential of tobacco. And tobacco is on the killing trail, taking new avatars as smokeless tobacco and acquiring a totally new constituency... the college girls.

Pan Parag, Hans, Tholsy, goldcoin... there are at least 32 such brands which have seduced a whole new generation. "What is alarming is that narcotics can be mixed in it", warns psychiatrist Dr.S.D.Singh. Tobacco is also inducing a variety of cancers. In fact India, with its beedi smokers, has the highest oral cancer incidence in the world, at 1,60,000 cases annually. Tobacco kills 8,00,000 persons each year, which means 2,200 deaths a day and 90 deaths per hour. Because of tobacco use 18,183 million productive years are lost.

And by the year 2020, 13.3 per cent of all deaths in India will be solely due to tobacco. Yet the only preventive measure is a token warning on cigarettes that "Cigarette smoking is injurious to health , a warning that is ignored , as proved by statistics. . An average cigarette contains 10mg of nicotine and one-tenth of it is inhaled by smokers. An intake of 40-60 mg can even cause nicotine poisoning. In fact cigarette smoke contains more than 4,000 substances including nicotine, carbon monoxide, carcinogens, irritants and traces of other gases.

The Kerala High Court has issued a ban on cigarette smoking in public as even passive smoking is more harmful. Children can develop asthma, sudden infant death syndrome because of passive smoking. Yet this ban is observed more in the breach. Nicotine is absorbed into the blood stream and carried to the brain in just 10 seconds.

People also take to smoking due to peer pressure, pleasure and relaxation, relief from negative moods and emulating smoking macho rolemodels on screen. Most smokers smoke at least 20 to 30 cigarettes a day. Personality and personal imagery, social settings and pressures are also vital contributors to the habit. Nicotine produces dependence and stopping can cause withdrawal symptoms, like depression, insomnia, irritability, frustration and anger, anxiety, loss of concentration, restlessness, decreased heart rate.

Smoking can cause infertility in women, spontaneous abortion, pre-term labour, placenta abruption and premature rupture of membranes.

"The smoking habit has physiological, social and behavioural reasons", says Dr.Hari of Medical Trust Hospital, stressing that it damages the lungs. "It can cause cancer of the lung, larynx, pharynx, oesophagus, pancreas, bladder, kidney, stomach, cervix as well as leukaemia .It affects the oral cavity as well as vocal chords.

The most vicious one is the lung cancer", says cancer specialist Dr.Mohan Nair. According to him tobacco use has increased in the past decade, registering a simultaneous increase in cancer incidence. "There are 1.1 billion smokers across the globe and 184 million tobacco consumers in India. Twenty per cent of the people use cigarettes, 40 percent use beedies and 40 per cent chew tobacco. Hence the highest incidence of oral cancer is in India. Adolescent smoking is also on the increase. The younger generation starts to smoke by the time they are 15." Dr.Mohan Nair said. In fact there are 800 million smokers in the developing world and China tops the list. According to recent estimates the smoker population will be 1.7 billion by the year 2020, causing one billion deaths a year due to tobacco alone. Yet 5.7 trillion cigarettes are produced in the world. The per capita consumption annually is 950 cigarettes a year. And it is estimated that at least 55,000 children smoke in India, which consumes 90 billion cigarettes. Around 200 billion goes up in smoke here annually.

"In Kerala, heart and lung diseases are the major cause of death. Risk factors are hyper tension ,cholesterol excess, obesity, diabetes, and sedentary lifestyle. Smoking can also cause coronary heart attacks and heart diseases, stroke, cardiac arrest, arteriosclerosis and aortic aneurysm.

Twenty to 50 percent of these deaths are attributed to smoking alone, which damages air passages and the lungs, causing chronic bronchitis, emphysema and lung cancer. They can make all lung diseases like viral fever, pneumonia and TB worse.

Lung power decreases very fast in smokers so that by the age of 45 one can resemble a 60-year-old, coughing, wheezing and breathless..." says Dr.Hari. Children of smokers have reduced lung power. Risk of lung cancer is 30 per cent higher for smokers' spouses and heart diseases are also more. Smoking or chewing habit is difficult to stop because of its addictive potential. Nicotine patches and nicotine inhaler, nicotine nasal spray and nicotine gum are some of the means of nicotine replacement therapy.. .

Kochi had launched a smokers group a year ago, advising smokers to stop. "What they seek is a quick fix, a medicine to cure smoking. It is not available", says Dr.Singh. "We can only give anticipatory guidance, telling parents about the impact of smoking on child health and habit.

Children should be told about the short-term effects. What is needed, however, is self-care through literature on smoking cessation", says Dr.Hari. Currently the Scissors Cup and the Wills Cup games only legitimise if not promote the smoking habit in the younger generation. "Children have taken to the tobacco products like pan paraag and hans. They smoke at least five packets a day and no one watches this.

Some children spend Rs.8000 a month on this," worries Dr.Singh. The fact that tobacco products are sold without licenses through bunkers etc also promotes the habit. "Retailers should be made to take licenses so that distribution can be limited," stresses Dr.Singh. He also suggests revision of the Tobacco Act and imposition of licenses on retailers.

"Who wants to purchase cancer,'' he asks...It was Columbus who discovered America. It was he again who introduced tobacco to the West. Both are proving to be "injurious to health".

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