Wednesday, 30 September 2015


There are 18 doctors in the parliament this time and yet when they had to constitute a committee to finalize whether some more stringent measures are needed against the tobacco industry, there were two tobacco/biri barons in this committee, which ended up concluding that there were no conclusive evidences linking tobacco to cancer! Had it not been for the rude slap of the Prime Minister, they would have once again got their way.

The tobacco industries have offered millions of dollars to research personnel exploring various issues like genetic differences between smokers and non-smokers, personality traits of smokers, immunologic factor in cancer, general studies on heart diseases, lung defense mechanisms and on smoking and other behavioral factors in heart diseases with the sole intention of blaming the victim and his genes for the resultant disease and keep the blame as far away from tobacco as possible. These sponsored researches try to prove that tobacco is not the problem but the weak immune status of the victim is the cause of the diseases.

Whenever taken to the court by the tobacco victim, the industry has fallen back on two invaluable laws: 
Volenti non fit injuria: or "to a willing person, no injury is done", there is no damage to someone who willingly places themselves in a position where they are negatively affected by tobacco consumption.
Contributory negligence: The victim himself that has contributed to his own injury as he has prior knowledge of the harm associated with tobacco smoking.

As well as countering the genuine negative reports, the tobacco industry has always acted to present the positive issues - the benefits offered by the industry to the social and cultural environment. Tobacco is presented as a good force in the environment. The industry never fails to emphasize how much money is raised by taxing the tobacco product, how many jobs are held by those in the tobacco industry, and the 'trickle down' effect of taxes and jobs. What they conveniently forget to tell is how much of revenue is spent in treating tobacco related diseases and how many man hours are lost in fields, factories and industries. The tobacco industry gives out scholarships to students, engages actively in sponsorship of art exhibits, sporting events, fine music, as well as rock music concerts. This offers the possibility of gaining an "aura of legitimacy and style". Taking this con game a step ahead the industry has now invaded the movie and the most appalling one being the twenty-four mentions of Marlboro in the movie Superman II. The benefit here is one of gaining advertising without officially advertising. A cigarette company cannot buy commercial time on television, but Superman II can air on prime-time with images of Marlboro cigarettes in numerous scenes.

The truth is that tobacco is the single greatest cause of preventable death globally. Tobacco use leads most commonly to diseases affecting the heart, liver and lungs. Smoking is a major risk factor for heart attacks, strokes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) (including emphysema and chronic bronchitis), and cancer (particularly lung cancer, cancers of the larynx and mouth, and pancreatic cancer). It also causes peripheral vascular disease and hypertension. The effects depend on the number of years that a person smokes and on how much the person smokes. Starting smoking earlier in life and smoking cigarettes higher in tar increases the risk of these diseases. Also, environmental tobacco smoke, or secondhand smoke, has been shown to cause adverse health effects in people of all ages. Cigarettes sold in underdeveloped countries tend to have higher tar content, and are less likely to be filtered, potentially increasing vulnerability to tobacco smoking related disease in these regions. Chewed tobacco, gutkas and paan masalas are available in fancy pouches and are mercilessly destroying the third generation of its victims today.

So why has availability and use of tobacco continued in spite the medical evidence that it is a health risk? I see four reasons:
1. People love to smoke / chew / sniff tobacco due to the stimulant received, the intoxication and the addictive property of nicotine.
2. Smoking was in-style and fashionable at several periods in time and from Humphrey Bogart to Rajnikant all style icons had cigarette as their style accessory.
3. People believe that smoking could protect them from illness and was an answer to every ailment from constipation to mental tension
4. Finally, nations have become 'addicted' to the revenues produced by taxes placed upon tobacco products.

The Prime Minister’s swift move to put an end to the stupid diatribe about no conclusive evidence of the risk of tobacco is a bold and welcome move. Let us now make the next move.

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