Campaign against tobacco losing steam

CHENNAI May 29. The campaign against tobacco seems to have lost steam despite the State Government bringing in a legislation to ban smoking or chewing tobacco in public places.

While the medical professionals blame it on the enforcement agencies for failure in implementing it, the police say they have their own restrictions in enforcing the numerous special and local laws.

Cold statistics stare at the authorities. Tobacco contributes to 40 lakh deaths in a year globally, much more than victims of all terrorist groups put together while in India the figure hovers around eight lakhs, says a WHO report.

More locally, a survey conducted by the Cancer Institute in the city on 48,000 persons who formed a control group and the same number of those who died recently in Chennai showed that for standardised ages, the death rate is double among smokers than non-smokers.

As the anti-tobacco voices redouble its efforts on the World No Tobacco Day on May 31, the core issues that have come to focus include the impact of legislations and the strategies to be adopted to curb the use of tobacco on a larger scale.

The Government has done its part in enacting laws to curb public consumption of tobacco, but the absence of a mechanism to monitor the impact of such curbs has put the State's initiatives in limbo.

The Joint Commissioner of Police (Central), S.George, said the police had been booking at least 100 cases all over the city everyday, under earlier legal provisions but that did not have a negative effect on use of tobacco. ``We concentrate on places of public conglomeration while the Act does not prevent smoking in other places. The initiative has to come from within the individual''.

Moreover, the regulation on the sale of tobacco too has to be streamlined.

The Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Smoking and Spitting Act, 2002, which will have stronger provisions, contend doctors, has a focus on the nuisance value rather than the health aspect. It concentrates on curbing passive smoking rather than having a thrust on improving the health of individuals.

Says Rohini Premkumari, Professor of Radiation Oncology, Cancer Institute, ``The focus of the anti-tobacco drive should be on the ill-effects it has on the health of the individual. An integrated strategy of tight enforcement of laws and individual intervention should be the focus''.

Dr. Rohini heads the Tobacco Cessation Clinic at the Institute, one among the 12 centres opened in the country by the WHO for curbing tobacco use.

The centre, since its inception in December last, has received 215 cases, mostly relatives of those undergoing treatment at the Institute.

``The awareness among people is high. But they have an attitudinal problem, which we try and correct through simple counselling and psychotherapy. Anti-tobacco pills are also effective though they are a little expensive,'' said Vijaya Natarajan, medical officer of the clinic.

The TCC was planning an outreach programme at the school level especially because this year the anti-tobacco campaign emphasises on adolescents and young adults, Dr. Rohini said.

On May 31, the TCC will take out a procession of about 400 young adults collecting tobacco from passers by and later bury it, symbolic of burying the evils of tobacco use with it.

Among the line up of events include an awareness programme for its patients by Sri Ramachandra Medical College, a talk on `Tobacco and Cancer' by T.Raja, Medical Oncologist at Apollo Hospitals, and a human chain outside the Royapettah Hospital by the Hospital's Oncology department.

Not to be left out in the race, Pizza Corner will organise a march in Anna Nagar with a 20-foot long cigarette.

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