Tobacco addiction grows steadily among the youth

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Tobacco addiction grows steadily among the youth

Monday, 03 June 2024 | Sudha Sharma

Tobacco addiction grows steadily among the youth

With 24 per cent of children under 16 already using tobacco, the urgency for immediate intervention and education cannot be overstated

The escalating trend of addiction among the youth in India is a serious challenge to public health. Each year, tobacco consumption claims the lives of 1.2 million people in the country. The theme of World No Tobacco Day 2024, ‘Protecting Children from Tobacco Industry Interference,’ underscores the urgent need to shield the younger generation from the harmful influence of the tobacco industry.

Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable deaths and diseases worldwide. It significantly contributes to heart disease, cardiovascular issues and brain strokes. The Global Adult Tobacco Survey 2016-17 revealed that approximately 29 per cent (270 million) of Indian adults use tobacco products, including cigarettes, gutkha, supari tobacco, jarda, bidi and hookah.

Alarmingly, about 24 per cent of children under 16 years old in India consume tobacco in some form, leading to devastating health outcomes. The National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5) indicates that about 38 per cent of Indian men are addicted to tobacco. Notably, tobacco consumption is higher in rural areas (42.7 per cent) compared to urban regions (28.8 per cent). Among women, tobacco use stands at approximately 8.9 per cent, with rural women showing higher consumption rates than their urban counterparts. These statistics are a cause for significant concern.

World No Tobacco Day, celebrated by the World Health Organization and global partners, aims to raise awareness about the detrimental effects of tobacco use and promote cessation. The 2024 theme focuses on protecting children, as the majority of regular smokers start before the age of 18. This highlights the necessity of safeguarding adolescents from the perils of tobacco.

Smoking damages the alveoli in the lungs, leading to lung diseases, with most lung cancer cases linked to cigarette smoking. Tobacco increases the risk of cancers such as oral, throat, oesophagal, bladder, kidney and lung cancer. It also leads to chronic diseases like COPD, heart attacks and strokes. Smoking is responsible for approximately 90 per cent of cancer deaths. The risk of death from heart disease and strokes rises significantly among tobacco users.

Smokers are prone to numerous diseases, with a general decline in overall health. Additionally, tobacco use reduces fertility in both men and women and can cause severe complications during pregnancy. Smoking and use of tobacco can lead to severe lung diseases, including COPD, Asthma, TB and Lung Cancer causing significant suffering. Smokers are significantly more likely to die from COPD and are at a higher risk of developing TB. People should avoid tobacco products and seek medical help if addicted. Various resources, including nicotine replacement therapy, prescription medications, counselling services, support groups and smartphone apps, are available to help individuals quit tobacco. Among youth, smoking is often wrongly perceived as a sign of masculinity. Additionally, tobacco use is not universally seen as a vice.

The Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act (COTPA) 2003 aims to protect consumers, reduce tobacco use and prevent related diseases. It includes measures such as banning smoking in public places, regulating sales near educational institutions and issuing health warnings to inform the public. The Telangana Government in May 2024 has recently banned all tobacco products for one year, realising the grave consequences of tobacco usage.

The rising addiction among youth threatens their future health. Young people must resist industry influences that target youth and promote e-cigarettes and flavoured nicotine pouches and candy which are also harmful and lay the foundation for tobacco use later on.

(The author is a public health expert working as an Assistant Professor at MLB. Medical College, Jhansi UP, views are personal)

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