Smokeless tobacco addiction an epidemic: health sec

Government programmes and anti-tobacco laws do not include smokeless tobacco


Sonal Matharu | April 4, 2011

Smokeless tobacco has already assumed the dimension of an epidemic, said K Chandramouli, health secretary, here on Monday at the first ever consultative meeting by the government on smokeless tobacco.

“Smokeless tobacco has already assumed the dimension of an epidemic. Products like khaini and pan are available everywhere. Law and legislation cannot control this menace alone, we need an attitudinal change,” he said while inaugurating the meeting.

This is the first time the health ministry is holding such a consultation with all stakeholders including the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) to focus on how to control the consumption of smokeless forms of tobacco which is on a rise in India. The Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) states that 25.9 percent of people in India are addicted to smokeless tobacco.

All anti-tobacco laws and the focus of all tobacco control programmes in India is on smoking tobacco and that must change to include smokeless forms of tobacco, said Keshav Desiraju, additional secretary, health ministry.

“Smokeless forms of tobacco originated in India and this is really our problem. Most of the work done on tobacco control focuses on smokeless forms of tobacco. Even the focus of the government ads is different,” said Desiraju.

The secretary added that addressing the issue of smokeless tobacco is enormous in India because the target group mostly is illiterate and poor. “The challenge is enormous. Tobacco control is a multi-dimentional problem,” he said.

The civil society has been demanding a ban on the smokeless tobacco products. But the government is concerned the ban will lead to smuggling besides affecting livelihoods of over five million people employed in the tobacco industry either as tobacco growers, tendu leaf pluckers and as bidi rollers.

“Imposing a ban will not solve the problem. The industry is always two steps ahead of the government,” said Desiraju.
India spends $285 million each year as direct medical cost for treating smokeless tobacco related cancers.

Globally, debates on tobacco do not include smokeless forms of tobacco but India cannot ignore it, informed Dr K Srinath Reddy, president, PHFI. It is an increasing addiction and school children are getting addicted to these products because of their easy availability and affordability, he said.



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