Tobacco was introduced to India in the 17th century. Until the final decade of the 19th century, tobacco was apparently not even suspected as a cause of lung tumor; rather cigarette habit was popularised by mechanisation and mass marketing.

Globally, 942 million men and 175 million women 15 years or older are currently active smokers. According to WHO data, it is estimated that tobacco use kills nearly six million people every year. Approximately five million deaths are the result of direct tobacco use while more than 6,00,000 are the result of non-smokers being exposed to second-hand (passive) smoke.

Hence, one person dies every six seconds due to the adverse effect of tobacco. Around 35% of adults (47.9% males and 20.3% females) in India use tobacco in some form or the other.

Tobacco is consumed in the form of cigarette, bidi, cigar, hookah, tobacco chewing, chillam, snuff; among these cigarettes and bidis are the most common and most harmful. Use of smokeless tobacco is more prevalent in India (21%). People start using tobacco after seeing their role models, or cultural practices, or at times parental influence plays an important role.

Tobacco smoke contains more than 7,000 chemical compounds and smokeless tobacco products contain more than 3,000 chemicals of which at least 70 are known carcinogens that can damage nearly every organ system in the human body. Risk of developing various cancers due to use of tobacco increases multi-fold with early initiation, prolonged duration of use, number of tobacco products use per day, and also depends on the mode of use, degree of inhalation.

Apart from direct health loss, tobacco indirectly attributes to economic and environmental loss. Forests are being destroyed for the cultivation of tobacco crop. Burning of tobacco produces a number of toxicants in the environment. Manufacturing, packaging and transportation also cause environmental pollution. The cigarette, thus, is the deadliest artefact in the history of mankind.

To counter this, the Government of India has launched the National Tobacco Control Programme, to facilitate implementation of the Tobacco Control Laws and bring about greater awareness on the harmful effects of tobacco. Tobacco Control Legislation bans smoking in all public places and workplaces, it also prohibits both direct and indirect advertisement, promotion and sponsorship of all tobacco products in all forms of audio, visual and print media. This has made a major impact on the use of tobacco. There’s hope that these measures will bring a radical change in the consumption and use of tobacco in India.

Disclaimer: The veracity of any health claim made in the above article is the responsibility of the concerned hospital/doctor.