Battling killer tobacco
[dropcap]A[/dropcap]s per a recent amendment to the Cigarettes and other Tobacco Products (Packaging and Labelling) Rules of 2008, beginningApril 1, 2015, all tobacco products will carry a pictorial warning and text message that occupy at least 85 per cent of the front and back of a package. The pictorial warning alone will take up 60 per cent of the space and the written message the remaining 25 per cent. The chosen images are meant to at once shock and educate consumers of the risks of tobacco use.
This step comes a few months after taxes on tobacco products were increased steeply and these are very welcome measures taken by the central government towards containing tobacco consumption.
Tobacco inflicts huge damage on the health of the people of the country and, according to a report by the International Tobacco Control Project (ITCP) released last year, India could be clocking up a death toll of 1.5 million a year by 2020 if more users are not persuaded to kick the habit. Tobacco use alone accounts for about 40 per cent of all cancers in India – it causes nearly half of all cancers among males and a quarter of all cancers among females while also being a major cause of heart and lung diseases. It is a chilling scenario to say the least.“About 275 million Indians (35 per cent of adult population and 14.1 per cent of children aged 13-15 years) are tobacco users, mainly smokeless tobacco,” says a paper by Paul E. Goss of Harvard Medical School, Boston, and others. While Nagaland may not have been included in the survey, there is no doubt that we are among the states in the country with the highest number of tobacco users. We rank second in overall tobacco consumption among the North East states with a prevalence rate of 57%, next only to Mizoram which stands at 61% and we are highest in smokeless and dual use in the region. Every second man and every third woman in the State use tobacco and tobacco products in one form or the other.
In an intensive report on tobacco use in the State carried out by Eastern Mirror a couple of years ago, doctors reported that an alarming number of adolescents were checking in with pre-cancerous oral lesions caused by the chewing of gutkha and other tobacco mixtures. A handout issued by the Dimapur District National Tobacco Control Programme during World No Tobacco Day this year also stated that at least 21,000 men in Dimapur alone will die due to smoking in the next few years unless they quit. The seriousness of the situation cannot be underestimated.
Gariphema village was earlier this year declared the country’s first ‘tobacco-free village’. A resolution was reportedly taken at the village to impose a fine of Rs 1000 on whoever sells alcohol and tobacco or those who get drunk and disturb peace while those consuming alcohol, ‘bidi’, ‘paan’, betel nut or smokeless tobacco in public places would be fined Rs 500. A commendable step which one hopes will be enforced and followed up strictly. Nagaland, as it is with the rest of the country, has a very poor track record in this regard. It is not that good laws and regulations on tobacco control are not already in existence; the problem is that enforcement is extremely poor.
The tobacco crisis is a matter that the country cannot continue being half-hearted about – both at the central as well as state level. Decisive and strict action on the ground is absolutely essential if any headway is to be made in the battle against tobacco use.