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Don't let tobacco take your breath away

Tobacco is one of those commodities in the world which has proven to be extremely profitable. However, it is also the only legal consumer-facing product that, when used as per directions, kills at least about half of its long-term users. Tobacco compounds its negative impact by not only affecting the health of the user but also leaving a financial burden on the user as well as the country.

The focus of World No Tobacco Day 2019 is towards "tobacco and lung health" and it seems to be the perfect time to point out that when it comes to tobacco control, our country needs all the help it can get.

Impact to public health and the future generation

India's has public health problems burning a $27.93 billion hole in its economy, in addition to a national level loss of productivity due to diseases, early deaths and environmental damage. Yet, around 267 million adults and over half a million children continue to consume tobacco by smoking cigarettes & so on.

It is worthy to point out that unlike other countries where lobbying is prevalent, India actually has some strong public health policies - yet the consumption rate is still to see strong decline. This may be because in contrast to other countries where cigarette holds a majority of the market's tobacco consumption, bidis and SLTs or smokeless tobacco has a greater market share in India due to the pricing.

The result? India has nine out of ten families being prone to death due to tobacco-related cancers and more about 23 percent of the population exposed to passive smoking in public places[i]. Which means, that by eliminating tobacco use, 90 percent of all lung cancers can be prevented proactively.

Call to action

Tobacco continues to remain a common risk factor to the main non-communicable diseases – from cardiovascular diseases, several types of cancers, to chronic respiratory diseases. Globally, tobacco consumption constitutes nearly 14 percent of all NCD deaths among adults – roughly one person dying every 6 seconds.

Moreover, Lung health does not improve due to absence of a disease, and the habit has major implications for the lung health of both smokers and non-smokers globally. It is only after 10 years quitting smoking that the risk of lung cancer falls to half for the smoker. If the present trend persists, WHO has iterated that about 650 million people alive today will add to tobacco related mortality numbers. Half of them would be in productive middle age groups and each will lose about 20 years of their lives.

Meaning, for the foreseeable future, if we truly want to reduce the use of tobacco in this country, influencing the youth has to be the top priority. The adolescent brain reacts to nicotine differently than an adult brain would – the younger you are when you begin smoking, the more likely you are to develop nicotine dependence and face trouble quitting.

WHO has been urging us and reminding constantly that we are still not on track to meet the SDG's (Sustainable Development Goal) target of a one-third drop in non-communicable diseases by 2023. To achieve this, India's communities, businesses and the government must come together to focus their collective efforts to stop the drastic health and economic impacts of tobacco consumption.

Because if we do not, in addition to losing valuable talent, skills and our loved ones losing their breaths, we will also miss the opportunity to use tobacco control as a key leveler towards improving public health and safety.