Stigma Stimulus

Unlike the recent alleged cell phone-cancer link, evidence of tobacco, ghutka and similar ‘stimulants’ causing this deadly disease has been pretty conclusive for decades, but try convincing die-hard adherents. Smokers will have their puff, even if the divisional commissioner’s officers track them down to bathrooms, bedrooms, or wherever else they go for their dose of nicotine. Now that medicated patches, and reportedly even some chewables, are available to ease the craving of addicts, there is still a section that refuses to be weaned off the pleasure, the sheer arrogance, of having a burning cigarette between their fingers, and lifting it occasionally to the lips. It is not that they cannot kick the habit, but that they will not. Birthright after all is a birth right, even if leads summarily to the grave. (No one knows it better than leaders of a particular bent in Kashmir). It is not known whether some of the most well-known exponents of the art in the camp, with whom the hookah had become a hallmark, have ultimately thrown in the towel, but pictures showing them lighting up even in jail and courts would never fail to score a hit with those cast in the heroic mould.

But still, given the hundreds of thousands of smoking related deaths every year in the country, it is a psychological battle with long-held notions that has to be won, and health companies, which are at the forefront of enumerating the evils of smoking, could do their bit by devising antidotes that could help “victims” reduce their dependence on the lethal puff. Even the ban on smoking in public places needs to be enforced with a zeal rivaling that of a crusade if the non-smoking public is to be spared the toxic effects of inhaling carcinogenic fumes.

The cost of preventive measures, including the admittedly expensive ant-smoking publicity campaign and medical antidotes to the curse, should be offset with the cost to the nation in terms of dealing with the deadly diseases spawned by smoking. The figures of the liability in financial terms have not been communicated forcefully enough if at all such a study has been conducted in the country. The facts on this count could persuade policy makers and planners to devote adequate funding to the various aspects of the anti-smoking drive.

Of particular use could be generating a stigma against smoking through all means possible to make the act unattractive to youngsters, large numbers of whom are falling into the habit by the day. The menace has to be tackled using the same techniques as for promoting a product, only the corporate wagon has to run in reverse in this case. A beginning could be made by highlighting the blessedness of good health and the limitless possibilities of a healthy person, and juxtaposing it with the severe limitations of a victim stricken by smoking related diseases. Ad gurus could go a bit further by identifying non-smokers with those most successful with the fairer gender, and smokers among unsatisfying performers.

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