J&K could well be called the smoking capital of India. With at least four out of every 10 men using tobacco, mostly in smoking form, the UT is just behind the north-eastern states in the rank of tobacco abuse.
According to National Family Health Survey 5, 38.3 percent men in J&K, aged 15 and above use some kind of tobacco. Among women, the percentage is 3.6 percent, but growing.
There has been very little change in the percentage of men using tobacco over the past five years, the span between two family health surveys.
Despite bombardment of anti-tobacco public service messages, advertorials and advertisements, awareness programs and other means and modes of discouraging tobacco use, the trend seems to continue.
This is perhaps because the emergence of new users of tobacco is equivalent to the people who cease to smoke. Just a wild guess but not without a basis.
Across the UT, almost every school has a shop in the vicinity that sells tobacco. One of the major missionary schools in Srinagar has a number of vendors just outside the gate to dole out tobacco products to the young and curious lot. Sale of tobacco to people aged less than 18 years continues unashamedly. And the sale of loose cigarettes is as prevalent as sale of loose milk.
The Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act (COTPA) laws have not been implemented anywhere with efficacy.
The agencies that are meant to enforce these laws and help in decreasing the demand and sale of tobacco products have been struggling to make an impact given the thick and strong net of sellers and tobacco dealers. The ‘lobby’ they say, is too omnipresent and active.
As per the survey "Tobacco Use in School Going Adolescents of District Srinagar of Kashmir", published in International Journal of Science and Research found that 23 percent of adolescents were smokers and 18 percent of the studied population had started smoking when they were 14-15 years old.
"Half of the currently smoking adolescents indicated that they would be able to stop smoking if they wanted to do and only half of them received help or advice that encourage them to quit smoking," the researchers noted.
Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has estimated that in J&K, 3,039 disability adjusted life years (DALYs) are lost to tobacco use, one of the highest among all states. The only two states, where DALYs attributable to tobacco use are higher than J&K are Mizoram and Uttrakhand.
At all-India level, an average 2081 DALYs are lost to tobacco, much less than figures for J&K. The DALY is an estimate of how many life years are lost to disease or death due to a certain factor or disease. One DALY can be explained as one lost year of "healthy" life per 1000 population.
This ICMR report titled 'Health of Nation's States' makes it clear that J&K has one of the highest incidences of chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD). For COPD, Air Pollution and Smoking are considered to be major causative agents. J&K is among the top four states and UTs in terms of COPD burden per lakh population.
It seems to be quite clear that the population that is just stepping into adulthood would not be spared of the ill-effects and dangerous consequences of smoking. The only way we could reduce the demand is by protecting them in the tender years from the temptations that are brought in by the peers and romantic portrayal on screen.
Most smokers start in teens, not adulthood. Sale of these products to the young needs to be dealt with; and dealt with strongly.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.
The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.