Curbing tobacco use could reduce new cancer cases by one-third in India

According to a study, the country spends Rs 30,000 crores annually on tobacco-related diseases including cancer and other health conditions

Faridabad: There are about 15 lakh new cases of cancer in India every year, but 40% of these are caused by tobacco alone. If we want to combat the challenge of cancer, our focus should be on radically curbing the consumption of tobacco. This will prevent 5-7 lakh new tobacco-related cases of cancer every year, substantially reducing the cancer burden of the society, says Dr. Dinesh Pendharkar, Director, Sarvodaya Cancer Center at Sarvodaya Hospital, Faridabad.
Sharing his comments ahead of the World No Tobacco Day, Dr Pendharkar adds, “Tobacco is one of the biggest health challenges facing India. It contains nicotine and 4,000 other chemicals which cause cancer not only of the mouth and lungs, but also of food pipe, stomach and kidneys. The impact of tobacco on health goes much beyond cancer as it affects every organ of the body. Tobacco is a prominent cause of heart disease, cardiovascular disease, lung disease and brain stroke. India has the world’s highest incidence of tobacco-related cancer. According to a study, the country spends Rs 30,000 crores annually on tobacco-related diseases including cancer and other health conditions. Curbing the use of tobacco will reduce cancer cases by at least one-third, with huge savings in healthcare costs that can be used to treat other patients of other types of cancer.”
Dr Pendharkar feels that Indians are vulnerable to tobacco cancer because it is easy to get addicted to tobacco in the country.
“This is due to the widespread habit of chewing paan (betel nut), which quickly escalates to chewing tobacco. While there is a social taboo against smoking at a young age, no such inhibition exists for paan, which leads many youngsters to get addicted to tobacco at an early age. Consuming paan masala has also become widespread amongst the youth. I am now seeing cancer patients as young as 15-17 years who have been consuming tobacco in some form or the other,” he opines
“We cannot be complacent with the minor drop in the smoking habit. Many upwardly mobile women have begun to smoke as a mark of social status. They do not realize that smoking is even more injurious to the female body and can lead to many side effects such as infertility. Among school and college-going students, smoking is still seen as a symbol of superiority over one’s peers. Tobacco is an addiction because of the presence of nicotine, a drug substance. Once you are hooked, it is not easy to let go,” he says.
Dr. Dinesh Pendharkar is of the opinion that the only barrier to curbing the consumption of tobacco in India is unwillingness at all levels of the society, including individual, political and social.
“We truly do not understand the menace of tobacco and the havoc it causes in terms of public health. In fact, the amount of money spent on tobacco-related diseases in India is much higher than the revenue generated by tobacco. The only way to solve the problem is for the government to put drastic curbs on production and distribution of tobacco or stop it altogether. We cannot keep selling tobacco on one hand and invest thousands of crores in treating tobacco-related diseases on the other. This is a self-defeating approach.”