The smoke over smoking and cancer: even India?s health ministry has no data on tobacco-related deaths

Smoking 0304NB Nair | Indian Science Journal

New Delhi (ISJ) - As India?s anti-tobacco activists and tobacco lobby take positions, the union Health Ministry does not even have any data on tobacco-related deaths in the country. In reply to a Right to Information application (RTA), the Ministry said ?No such information (number of estimated deaths in India due to smoking related diseases) is available with this Division.?

The Ministry, which spent an average Rs. 24 crores every year during the past eight years on National Tobacco Control Programme, relied on the Report on Tobacco Control in India 2004, and said every year eight to nine lakh estimated deaths occur in the country due to tobacco consumption.

The Ruling BJP?s Member of Parliament Dilip Kumar Mansukhlal Gandhi, who is also Chairman of the Parliamentary Panel of Subordinate Legislation, claimed, there is no India-specific study linking tobacco to cancer, with activists and cancer researchers . The panel, which examined a proposal to mandate 85% of the surface area of the packaging of tobacco products with graphic pictorial warnings, recommended against such a move. Gandhi found support from his party lawmaker Shyam Charan Gupta, who reportedly told a television news channel, ?Why can?t doctors explain, chain smokers don?t get cancer??

India, as a signatory to WHO?s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, is required to mandate tobacco pictorial warnings to cover 85% of the package by April 2015.

Tobacco is one of the major causes of death and disease in India, accounting for nearly 9 lakhs (0.9 million) deaths every year, according to World Health Organisation, WHO. Tobacco use is a major risk factor for many chronic diseases including cancer, lung diseases, cardiovascular diseases and stroke.

Tobacco use is one of the biggest public health threats the world has ever faced and leads not only to human loss, but also heavy social and economic costs.

India is the second largest consumer and third largest producer of tobacco and a plethora of tobacco products are available at very low prices. According to the latest Global Adult Tobacco Survey, over 35% of the adults in India, i.e., approximately 27.5 crore (275 million) were tobacco users in 2009-10.

More than half of current tobacco users will die from tobacco related diseases, if they do not quit. If the current use of tobacco among adults is reduced to half by the year 2020, 180 million deaths due to tobacco could be avoided. Tobacco cessation is the only way to save the current tobacco users from tobacco related mortality and morbidity in the short run.

The most prevalent form of tobacco use in India is smokeless tobacco and commonly used products are khaini, gutkha, betel quid with tobacco and zarda. Smoking forms of tobacco used are bidi, cigarette and hookah.

Sources: WHO | Indian Journal of Medical Research

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