The Deadly Habit

The habit of smoking and tobacco chewing is emerging, in the light of recent studies, as one of the deadliest killers of human beings.

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The habit of smoking and tobacco chewing is emerging, in the light of recent studies, as one of the deadliest killers of human beings. In the 20th century tobacco killed 10 crore people, and it is feared that in the 21st century this deadly habit would claim about 100 crore lives. Compare it with the figures of two World Wars which together devoured 6 to 7 crore people.
Most of the smokers die young. There is a popular joke that if you want to avoid the tribulations of old age you should start smoking. Because smokers do not enter the stage of old age, they die before that.
Smoking, the most popular form of use of tobacco had addictive qualities, and therefore habit forming. Once you get addicted to it, it is very difficult, almost next to impossible, to quit it. Mark Twain, the American writer, has sarcastically remarked, “Giving up smoking is very easy. I have given it up several times.”
India, the country with second largest population – we have crossed 114 crore mark – has a very insufficient health care system. It is a matter of grave concern that tobacco kills about nine lakh Indians every year. Projections reveal that by the year 2010 this number may reach one million.
In the world also the diseases caused by use of tobacco have become the single most cause of death. There are 100 crore smokers worldwide in a population of 670 crore. It means that every eighth person is a smoker. Most of these smokers are from low or middle income countries. Because of discouraging measures adopted by western countries, the multinational cigarette companies have shifted their activities to less developed and poor countries. This makes the situation more difficult for a country like India.
Studies show that only two per cent Indian smokers have given up smoking. Quit rate is better in the west. In the UK it is 40 per cent, in the USA and Canada 30 per cent and in Poland 25 per cent.
Our Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss’ jihad against smoking is commendable. It was stiffly opposed by cigarette manufacturers’ lobby. Even some chief ministers and members of Parliament also opposed his campaign.
We as an emerging nation cannot afford large scale deaths and diseases as a result of tobacco abuse. May be, excise duty on tobacco gives large sums to our exchequer. But should we play with the health of our people for a few bucks?
All out efforts on the part of doctors, social activists and guardians of civil society are required to fight tobacco menace. And the government must play its part to curb tobacco abuse by banning it altogether or imposing strict curbs on its use. The Government should act decisively to root out this menace.