Mumbai: When it comes to tobacco, government, health experts, non-governmental organisation (NGOs) and other voluntary organisations immediately start talking about use of cigarette and bidi and its ill-effects whereas tobacco does not only mean cigarette and bidi.
It is also smokeless tobacco. In India 90 per cent of people are suffering from oral cancer as they are consuming smokeless or chewing tobacco. As per the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS 2017), 21.4 per cent (15+ adults) use smokeless tobacco whereas 10.7 per cent smoke.
Even though India’s problem is chewing tobacco, the focus seems to be more on smoking than on smokeless. Looking at the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) 2017 report
It states that healthcare providers have advised 48.8 per cent smokers to quit whereas only 31.7 per cent smokeless tobacco users were advised to quit, which shows a big gap.
Dr Pankaj Chaturvedi, Head and Neck Cancer Surgeon, Tata Memorial Hospital said, smokeless tobacco use is the cause of 90 per cent of oral cancers. Patients reach our operation tables due to smokeless tobacco use.
Reason why there are less number of smokeless tobacco (SLT) users planning or thinking of quitting are because of the surrogate advertisements of smokeless products. Pan masala advertisements are on TV channels, radio, newspapers, even though the law prohibits direct or indirect advertisements.
“Especially children, who are vulnerable, get lured by such advertisements and end up buying these products. Popular brands of pan masala and flavoured mouth fresheners contain areca nut (supari) which has been confirmed as carcinogenic by the Union Health Ministry,” he said.
Dr Chaturvedi said government must make more preventive strategies on smokeless prevalence to prevent oral cancers. Oral cancer is one of the major subgroups of head and neck carcinomas.
In India also it accounts for nearly 1.5 lakh new cases every year. Sanjay Seth, Trustee, Sambandh Health Foundation (SHF), said, even though states have banned Gutka and pan masala with tobacco, these products are rampantly sold everywhere.
“Maharashtra has taken a bold step to ban pan masala without tobacco. Children have access to these products as the shops selling pan masala and other tobacco products are right outside their schools/colleges,” said Seth.
The GATS-2017 mentions that tobacco users using either smoke or smokeless forms of tobacco are equally aware that it causes serious illness.
But only 49.6 per cent smokeless users are planning or thinking of quitting as compared to 55.4 per cent of smokers. This again shows a gap that more smokers are planning or thinking of quitting, while smokeless tobacco users are less. They need to be counselled more so that more number of chewing tobacco users should also think or plan to quit.