THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Tobacco use has been generally identified with smoking. However, the use of smokeless tobacco, which is equally dangerous, is ignored. Experts warn that it is high time that the focus is shifted to the use of smokeless tobacco, especially considering the increasing inflow of migrant labourers, who have made the availability of the substance widespread, to the state.
Use of smokeless tobacco - by chewing or by placing under the tongue - mainly causes oral and pancreatic cancers. “At present, the grave problem facing the state is the use of smokeless tobacco. Though smoking is banned in public places, smokeless tobacco is available in plenty. Its use is easy to hide, which prompts the youth to use such products more,” said leading surgical oncologist Thomas Varughese, who sent a letter to the Parliamentary Committee on Subordinate Legislation along with Kerala Cancer care Society elaborating on the need to impose a total ban on tobacco products.
The call for a total ban on tobacco products is also gaining momentum considering the alarming increase in the number of the ‘killer disease’ cases mainly caused by tobacco use. There are 14 types of cancers caused by tobacco use, including oral cavity and pancreatic cancers, throat cancer, lung cancer and cancers of larynx and mouth, to mention a few.
Urgent government intervention is needed to implement WHO’s theme of this year’s ‘World No Tobacco Day’, ‘Stop illicit trade of tobacco products’. “The sale one out of ten cigarettes is being done through illicit trading. It is a parallel economy in which a huge amount is involved as the case is obviously that of tax evasion and there is no control over it. The illicit traders make use of the common tendency to get attracted towards cheaper products,” says oncologist C N Mohanan Nair.
Another emerging trend to worry about is the increase in the number of women getting attracted to smoking for ‘fun’. This is mainly owing to peer pressure and for ‘easing’ job-related tensions. Rough estimates show that in Kerala, 22 per cent of the adults (15 years and above) use tobacco, while 42 per cent of the adults are exposed to second-hand smoke at home.
As per a study in 2011, Keralites spent Rs 545 crore on treatment of tobacco-related diseases. While cardiovascular diseases caused the highest economic burden of Rs 226 crore on account of tobacco use, respiratory diseases cost Rs 198 crore, tuberculosis Rs 67 crore and cancers Rs 55 crore. While it is felt that banning tobacco is not a bad idea, there have been demands to enhance the tax on tobacco products and to make awareness campaigns much more effective.