India has a long history of smoking. While dhumpana (drinking smoke), has been in practice for a long time, tobacco was first introduced in India only in the 1600s. Modern pipes with stems of different length and chillums were used to inhale smoke in the beginning but with modernization, these were replaced by cigarettes. It is said that the first medical reports linking smoking to cancer appeared in 1920s. In 1950s and 1960s major researches confirmed that tobacco caused a range of serious diseases. In the twentieth century, smoking became less popular due to a rapid increase in the knowledge of the health effects of both active and passive smoking. People also became aware of the tobacco industrys schemes to mislead the public about the health effects of smoking and to manipulate public policy for their short-term interests. The first successful litigations against tobacco companies over smoking-related illness took place in the later part of the 20th Century.
People however continue to smoke, even though most of us are aware about the ill effects of smoking. The pictorial warnings which were made mandatory on cigarette packets may have reduced the number of smokers but it has failed to completely eliminate the practice. Some people even believe that there are some cigarettes which are safer than others but the truth is that there is no such thing as a safe cigarette. A cigar causes as much damage as a cigarette and a hookah causes as much damage as a pipe.
Cigarettes, no matter what form they are in, contain many harmful ingredients which on burning generate more than 4,000 cancer causing chemicals. Almost all major Cancer Research Institutes state that cigars have a higher level of carcinogens, toxins, and tar than cigarettes. Another myth associated with smoking is that the water in the hookah absorbs the toxins from the smoke, rendering it safe for the smoker. Studies have however proven that the smoke that emerges from the water bowl of the hookah has several toxins known to cause lung cancer, heart diseases and other health related disorders. In fact, hookah smoking over a long period of time may expose the smoker to more smoke than cigarette smoking thus making a person more prone to smoking related health hazards. Also since Hookah smoking is mostly done in groups, with the same hookah being passed from person to person, chances of coming in contact with bacteria and other harmful microorganisms are more. Therefore, the risk of transmission of infectious diseases like tuberculosis, several viral infections etc. increases.
Smoking E-cigarettes also has its own concerns. A Californian health chief recently claimed that e-cigarettes are “a community health threat”. Any teenager who uses an e-cigarette faces the risk of improper brain development. E-cigarettes contain nicotine and other harmful chemicals and the nicotine in them is as addictive as the nicotine in cigarettes. Smoking E-cigarettes also has disastrous effects on the nervous system, respiratory system, cardiovascular system, skin, hair and nails, Digestion, sexual wellness and the reproductive system.
Tobacco kills half of its users. Smoking and smokeless tobacco use kill nearly 6 million people worldwide one death every 6 seconds each year. India suffers one million deaths every year due to tobacco consumption. If the current pattern continues, tobacco use will kill approximately 10 million people every year throughout the world by 2020. 70% of these deaths will occur in less developed and developing nations (As reported by the World Health Organization).
Also a smoker causes more damage to others than to his or her own health. Reports suggest that passive smoking causes more damage than active smoking. Thanks to the numerous awareness campaigns, the world is becoming more and more aware about the harmful effects of smoking. In India too, awareness campaigns against smoking have become quite popular. In 2008 the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare Prohibited Smoking in Public Places. Warning labels on cigarette packs, which were introduced in the USA in 1966, are often one of the first tobacco control initiatives. Indian Government also recently made it mandatory for the cigarette companies to carry 85 percent warnings, both in the form of writings as well as pictures, on the cigarette packs. Increasing taxes and fines are also a good measure to control smoking. But all this isnt enough. Putting an end to this menace requires honest and perseverant efforts from all sections of the society and at all levels. It has been seen that children whose parents or close relatives smoke are more likely to take up smoking. The Student Health Survey 2009 conducted by the Health Promotion Board (HPB) showed that 50% of young smokers had at least one parent who smoked. School programmes are often one of the first approaches to spread awareness. Families must also establish their homes as smoke-free places. Elders shouldnt smoke in front of children. Parents should take a parenting skills course to learn how to provide anti-smoking and refusal education at home. Disciplining students is a necessary step which is only possible when teachers and parents are non-smokers and supportive of anti-tobacco programmes. High emphasis must be laid on helping the smokers to quit and also teaching them how to prevent themselves from taking up the habit again. It is also high time to engage teachers, youth workers and counsellors in promoting a tobacco-free lifestyle among the young. Smoking must be completely banned so that every one of us can enjoy a healthier life style.
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