UK & World News

  • 31 May 2014, 3:33

India Battles With Tobacco Addiction Epidemic

Naveen Khanna could never have imagined that an innocent habit of chewing tobacco, like millions of other Indians, could nearly cost him his life.

It took less than four years of chewing tobacco for the 69-year-old to develop a full-blown case of mouth cancer.

It has left his face disfigured and Mr Khanna has undergone 35 radiation therapy sessions and an operation to get rid of the cancer.

He is taking no chances and makes trips to the hospital every three months for a check-up.

Bitter and resentful, he is now the voice of victims in an anti-tobacco campaign; a campaign he started from the kiosk which sold him his first tobacco pouch.

He told Sky News: "By simply putting notices on the pouches and cigarettes that this is dangerous and this causes cancer will not be sufficient.

"There should be a ban and the government must implement this ban."

According to medical experts, India has epidemic proportions of diseases related to the use of tobacco.

There are 275 million tobacco users in the country.

Reports estimate that close to a million people die every year due to tobacco-related diseases.

Dr Harit Chaturvedi, head of the oncology department at a leading hospital in Delhi, told Sky News: "It's the biggest problem.

"In India we have 1.2 million new cancer cases every year and tobacco accounts for nearly half that number.

"I see a significantly rising trend but the statistical data does not support this sharp rise. But we on the clinical side see a massive increase."

This year campaigners want a steep increase in taxes on tobacco products.

But they are up against a very rich and powerful lobby that until now has effectively blocked or slowed down legislation against it.

According to Dr Chaturvedi "the tobacco industry mafia is riding over the willpower of the so-called people in charge. It buys their will. The product needs to be banned.

"The money spent on treatment and man hours lost is far greater than the money and taxes it generates. This industry is just giving disease."

In a right to information (RTI) disclosure, the Union government revealed that tobacco companies have made donations to political parties in the past and may continue to do so.

An ordinary packet of 10 cigarettes costs about six pence. A pack of 25 sticks of the Indian version, called Beedis, costs a penny.

Fifty new patients are added to Dr Chaturvedi's list every week and he is just one doctor in this country of more than a billion people.

Dr Chaturvedi is concerned by the increase in mouth and throat cancer caused by chewing tobacco, which is widely available and convenient to carry and consume.

Most states in India have banned chewing tobacco but the legislation is not enforced.

According to a report by the International Tobacco Control Project (ITCP), despite signing up to a global treaty and having a number of anti-tobacco and smoking laws, India is failing and leaving its people vulnerable to addiction and ill health.

Campaigners and medical experts like Dr Chaturvedi warn not only of the sharp increase of cancer victims but also that users are getting younger, with children as young as nine or 10 becoming addicted.

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