Health experts and activists on Friday here called for strengthening the tobacco control law, saying that the continuation of designated smoking areas (DSAs) and ads of tobacco products at Point of Sale (PoS) in the country were like “a tacit approval from the authorities stating that it is ok for the tobacco users and youth to consume the deadly product which every year claim over 13 lakhs lives.”
The stringent COTPA (Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act) Amendment Bill will not only help save several lives but also reduce the burden on the healthcare system, said the experts including Dr. Shalini Singh, a cancer specialist, and Director, ICMR-National Institute of Cancer Prevention and Research, Shweta Shalini, activist and BJP spokesperson from Maharashtra and Dr. Archana Dhawan Bajaj, a well-known gynecologist.
At a webinar held by the Tobacco-Free India, a citizens group, Dr. Shalini Singh focused on the need to spread awareness about tobacco-related cancers and a plethora of other diseases while Shweta Shalini, youth BJP leader elaborated on the urgency and the immediate need for action to fight against the lobby engaged in trashing out the tobacco products health, India can never become world Guru.
During the discussion, Dr. Singh also revealed that the tobacco industry is now trying to trap youth through ‘synthetic nicotine’ which is as harmful and addictive as nicotine but does not come under the legal purview.
While appreciating various progressive steps taken by the Government under tobacco control legislation, the speakers pointed out that every year, over 13 lakh people die due to consumption of the deadly product in the country.
Drawing attention to secondhand smoking which is equally harmful, Dr. Shalini Singh said, “many countries are now moving towards the tobacco endgame strategy. They have also started banning tobacco on streets, beaches, and outdoor parks. Smoking zones allowed in our country in indoor spaces like hotels and restaurants pose huge health hazards for non-smokers and we have to ban them immediately,”
Shweta Shalini said, “If we want to make India, a world leader we must have healthy youth. But I feel that there's a strong lobby working against the Government’s dream of becoming world leaders. If our youth and kids have poor health, India can never become a world Guru.”
India has the second-largest tobacco-using population in the world. Indian National Health Policy 2017 comprehensively includes the aspect of tobacco control and sets out the target for achieving 30 per cent relative reduction of tobacco use by 2025 from the levels in 2009-10.
It’s good that smoking is completely banned in many public places and workplaces. The law, however, permits the establishment of smoking areas or spaces in airports, hotels having 30 or more rooms, and restaurants having a seating capacity of 30 or more. This gap needs to be plugged, Shweta Shalini asserted.
Dr. Archana Dhawan Bajaj, a fertility expert focused on tobacco-induced infertility among couples, which, she said, is rising at a disturbing rate in the country.
She cautioned that smoking and tobacco use can have a serious impact on the fertility of both men and women, and consequently the quality of life in pregnancy as well as negative health on the unborn child, miscarriage, and death.
Dr. Bajaj explained that if a woman is a regular smoker, then it has a double effect on a woman's fertility. Smoking can harm both the eggs and the uterus. It not only affects her egg quality but can also have an endometrial effect.
From the male's perspective, the carcinogen quality of cigarettes, in general, affects the motility of the sperm and excessive smoking can lead to poor sperm count and other fertility problems, she added.
“A total ban on smoking in indoor public places will protect men and women from the harms of second-hand smoke, help smokers quit, and reduce smoking among youth. Let's have healthy parents and children for a better India,” said the gynecologist.
The speakers felt that the policymakers, medical fraternity, and community need to come together to raise awareness; formulate a strategy to cut down the production of tobacco, impose a higher tax on the product besides amending COTPA Act, and set up more cessation centers to help people quit the addiction.