Tobacco is a recreational drug. It is consumed largely by smoking cigars, cigarettes, beedies, pipe, pipe smoking (hookah) and other smoking tools and paraphernalia. It is also consumed as chewing tobacco and snuff. Tobacco smoke contains as many as 5000 identified chemicals of which 98 have specific toxological properties causing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, etc. The worst damage is by Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA).
Nicotine is a product found in many plants but more so in the tobacco plants, which are flue, fire, air or sun cured with added aromatic flavours by caramelisation. These additions cause their own damages. Nicotine, the primary psycho active chemical in tobacco, is addictive. Tobacco produces aerosol containing over 4000 chemical compounds besides nicotine, carbon monoxide and acrolein, 50 of which are carcinogenic.
Beedies have been extremely popular especially because of cheaper pricing. Charminar cigarette from Hyderabad and Ganesh Beedi from Mangalore are well-known brands. Beedies are packed in tendu leaves, which make suitable wrappers. Rolling of beedies is a cottage industry. In fact, quality cigars are still hand-made, while cigarettes are machine made.
History of tobacco
Tobacco has a long history coming as it does from South American Tribes seen by them as gift from the Creator and used in religious ceremonies. It was once considered holy and sophisticated, but it came to be realized only much later that it is a deadly health hazard. It was brought first in Spain and spread to European countries in the 16th century. It became an important trade item spread to all over Europe. Cuba became major supplier of world famous cigars. It is only in the 20th century, its evil effects were brought to the notice of the public.
During war time, black market was rampant for tobacco products. Consumption of cigarettes is highest in China with U.S, Japan, Russia and Indonesia following.
Evils of tobacco
It was an English King James I to whom the following counterblast to tobacco is attributed:
“A custom loathsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain, dangerous to the lungs, and in the black, stinking fume thereof nearest resembling the horrible Stygian smoke of the pit that is bottomless”.
Bernard Shaw wrote “A cigarette is a pinch of tobacco rolled in paper with a fire at one end and a fool at the other”.
It has been variously described by a clergyman again 400 years ago as a plague and mischief, a violent purger of goods, land, health, hellish, devilish and damned the tobacco, the ruin and overthrow by body and soul.
Tobacco is known to affect heart, liver and lungs directly. World Health Organisation has named tobacco as the world’s single greatest preventable cause of about 5.4 million deaths in 2004. “Viduthalai” daily dated 8th May 2017 has published a report that 12 lakhs people die every year because of use of tobacco.
A U.S. agency in its study points out that tobacco is “single most preventable risk to human health in developed countries and an important cause of premature death worldwide”. India, though underdeveloped, has large scale consumption of tobacco even in villages, where it is not an uncommon sight to see old women smoking cigars. Tobacco smoke affects not only the smoker but also those around him.
Another U.S. study says that nearly 46000 non-smokers are killed every year because of smokers. There is disproportionate damage on the poor, since well-to-do have some control. The poor are also economically affected as tobacco occupies 15 per cent to 20 per cent of their family budget. Liquor occupies even a larger proportion. An average loss of life for smokers is 14 years. It harms pregnant women.
Discarded cigarette butts after smoking end up in water systems and causes pollution not only harmful for humans but also for animals. They are littered doing environmental damage. Bio-degradation and photo degradation necessary for the purpose are disregarded. The filters used are often not bio-degradable.
Tobacco is in the same class as not only opium but also tea and coffee which are equally habit forming. The psychological effects are often ignored. Teenagers by smoking become rebellious and risk taking. It is true that it may relieve feeling of stress for the time being but stress gets worsened once the influence of tobacco is lost. It leads to depression and suicide. No less a person than Sigmund Freud suffering from oral cancer caused by smoking committed suicide with the help of a doctor friend. There are cancers of the mouth, lungs, easophagus and bladder. Inhalation has a direct link with lung cancer risk. Even those smokers, who don’t inhale or smoke moderately have to face risk, which a non-smokers does not.
defence of tobacco
Smoking promotes camaraderie. During World War I, soldiers were given cigarette allowances to help them withstand strain. The claims of anti-smoking activists are met by mockery with skepticism, if not outright contempt. Smoking is considered to be a sign of masculinity giving an iconic self-image.
In Japan, prostitutes use cigarettes to identify themselves and enabling easy approach by offer of a smoke. Women used it as a type of sensuous and seductive sensuality as personified by stars Marlene Dietrich and Audrey Hepburn, whose pose holding a cigarette was considered glamourous noticed in the film “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”. Films are supposed to have promoted smoking. Film stars are used in advertisements, the most famous being Marlon Brando and James Dean.
Cigars are projected as symbols of successful life style. Che Guevara, the Cuban revolutionary justified cigar trade at the time of U.S. embargo against Cuba “a smoke in times of rest is a great companion to the solitary soldier”. Cuban cigars are still smuggled into U.S. covering 95 per cent of cigars sold in U.S. The embargo was removed only in 2015. Cigar smoking has apparently some attraction as is evident from the popular award offered to an international celebrity as a cigar smoker of the year. Cartoons with Churchill with a cigar in his mouth is an illustration. Regulations meant for cigarettes are mostly inapplicable for cigars, which are often sold in gas station, grocery stores and pharmacies.
War against tobacco
The war against tobacco has gone on for centuries, but tobacco is becoming more and more popular as a symbol of status and persons who become familiar get addicted to it. Television channels are asked to give health advisories warning the viewers of the dangers of liquor and tobacco. The liquor bottles and cigarette pouches carry the warning with a skeleton head to buttress the warning. Would such persuasion be enough to put an end to these health hazards?
Australia has decided against excluding tobacco investments on the part of the Government. Retirement funds in California has chosen to avoid tobacco companies for investments on the advice of the beneficiaries of the fund.
Smoke causes fire hazards, so that European Union and U.S. require Fire Standard Compliance for cigars and cigarettes. Bhutan is the only country in the world, which has banned tobacco in 2010 with exception of a small allowance. Restrictions are placed in most countries for sale to minors and young persons or prohibited in specified public areas. Tobacco advertising and sponsorship has been outlawed in European Union in 2005. Advertisements are restricted in U.S. from 2010. Warnings of health hazards to be printed in cigarette packs are in vogue in most countries like U.S., Canada, Australia, India, Pakistan, Hong Kong and Singapore. The regulations requiring particular colour with entire back of package to contain warning was unsuccessfully challenged before the High Court of Australia. Some of the additives like ammonia salts to increase the effect of nicotine for smokers are subject to regulations in U.S.
Advertisements are controlled in India by the law enacted on 18th May 2003 prohibiting advertisement and sales to person under 18 years and sales within 100 yards of any educational institutions. Warning is mandatory.
Indian experience – A startling report
A study of what the Government is actually doing in India about tobacco in an article in The Economic Times dated 30th April 2017 makes a sad reading in that the evils are becoming more and more perceptible, while Government has not only not done anything to curb the practice, but is actually encouraging it indirectly with Government companies making heavy investments in tobacco companies. Life Insurance Corporation has a heavy stake in ITC, a tobacco enterprise, VST Industries, the producers of popular Charminar cigarettes and Dharampal Satyapal Ltd. makers of Baba chewing tobacco. Dr.Pankaj Chaturvedi, a doctor of Tata Memorial Hospital, was aghast and asked whether the Government, which is encouraging production by such investments, is really serious about tobacco control.
A former Home Minister of Maharashtra, Mr.Satish Pednekar, who had the habit of chewing tobacco and paan masala (Gutka), died of cancer. His wife Mrs. Sumitra Pednekar laments that it was very painful to see him die in pain with both herself and her husband in the hospital for months away from their children.
Dr.Chaturvedi and Mrs. Pednekar have made a global call as part of international movement with participation by eminent doctors mainly oncologists from Australia, Norway, Sweden and Netherlands. The doctor says that any medical text book would show that there are 16 types of cancer including head and neck caused by tobacco. He adds that doctors could not be silent spectators to this mass homicide. Mrs. Sumitra Pednekar would deplore that the Government funding is “feeding the monster that is eating away its population”.
No doubt, most religious heads discouraged tobacco and cannabis, but surprisingly in India, a tradition has become common especially among the `sanyasis’ (mendicants) to consume the herb cannabis known as ganja, extensively used under the wrong impression that the trance it induces signifies union with the gods.
No attempt has been made by Government except levying more and more tax on tobacco as a welcome source of revenue with Goods and Services Tax (GST) providing for highest rate of tax on tobacco along with liquor as sin goods. The response of the public sector undertakings for their investments in tobacco companies is that sale of tobacco products is legal and that the investments running into billions only meets its cost of its services and is not subsidising tobacco. Their apologists point out to the innovations in making of cigarette cases, lighters, match boxes, cigarette and cigar holders and ashtrays contributing to employment in manufacture of pipe cleaners, tobacco cutters, pipe tampers, cigarette companions some with ornate and antique items. The supporters of tobacco point out to its medicinal qualities as for treatment of wasp, hornet, fire ant, scorpion and bee stings and that it has also other uses like an organic insecticide.
Economists take a back seat in the matter of this colossal diversion of public funds doing nothing to influence our powers as mute spectators to the crime of aiding the killing of users of tobacco. The means, which are adopted by the tobacco lobby to silence them would be another story of the illegal relationship between the lobbyists and those in power.
Dr. Anbumani Ramadoss, a former health minister derides the irony of Government being the biggest shareholders of tobacco companies, which are killing a million a year. Though no one is aware of any concrete step taken by him during his tenure holding health portfolio in the Central Government, now says, that it is this tobacco lobby which defeated him in the election that followed his tenure.
Public interest litigations filed in various courts to ban tobacco have turned out to be wet blankets, another classic instance of law’s delays. These cases are long since pending in many courts in India. The indifference of the Government is equally lethargic. The periodical criticism of some politicians or others of liquor and gutka only indicate hypocrisy on the part of politicians, when they do not do anything about it.
The damage, which tobacco does on par with alcoholic liquor is well known. The restrictions are, by and large, eyewash and is no substitute for total ban on liquor and tobacco. There has been a dramatic increase in world-wide tobacco consumption amounting almost to an epidemic as was cited by World Bank. Even the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) sponsored by World Health Organisation (WHO) has only been signed but not ratified. What little has been suggested by FCTC with the patronage of U.N. has not made a significant impact. Meanwhile, International Tobacco Growers Association (ITGA) with a number of hired economists has under-estimated the threat to the developing economies. Total ban has not been strongly recommended by any responsible body, thanks to the pressures exerted by the industry. Tax and other measures to reduce either liquor or tobacco consumption has hardly any perceptible effect. Even the limited curbs sought to be placed are being criticized on grounds of fundamental rights under the Constitution as regards freedom to trade. Even where some States have framed regulations, they are hardly implemented. Some countries have, however, agreements between them to avoid illicit imports in a common supplementary protocol in 2012 in a convention of 40 States in Moscow barring attendance of the press reporters during secret (!) discussion of a proposal for a global tobacco tax as though tax is a substitute for a ban.
When will tobacco with its partner the liquor be banned? When will our statesmen be totally free from pressures of interested parties and do their duty to save and protect the people they represent? If they do not, are they not abettors to the merciless mass killing?