World No Tobacco Day 2023: Smokeless tobacco products have long been promoted as alternatives to smoking. However, it is crucial to acknowledge the serious health concerns associated with their usage. Therefore, researching efficient preventive techniques is essential while aligning with the World No Tobacco Day theme, "We need food, not tobacco." This subject aims to educate tobacco farmers about alternative crop production and marketing prospects, inspiring them to transition to cultivating healthy and sustainable crops. Tobacco use significantly contributes to numerous chronic illnesses, including cancer, lung disease, cardiovascular disease, and stroke.
Tobacco-related diseases are a leading cause of mortality, claiming the lives of approximately 1.35 million people annually. In addition, the country ranks second in both tobacco production and consumption, with a wide range of products available at low prices. Smokeless tobacco is the most prevalent form of tobacco use in India, with commonly used products including khaini, gutkha, betel quid with tobacco, and zarda. Given this context, discussing the dangers of smokeless tobacco, exploring preventive techniques, and emphasising the need to encourage farmers to cultivate healthier substitutes is crucial. Dr Tushar Patil, Consultant-Medical Oncologist, Sahyadri Super Speciality Hospital, Deccan Gymkhana, Pune, unmasks the hidden risks, embraces prevention, and cultivates sustainable alternatives to smokeless tobacco products.
The Hidden Risks Of Smokeless Tobacco
Increased Risk of Cancer: Tobacco contains 400 compounds, 40 of which are carcinogenic and can lead to various types of cancer. There is a high likelihood of developing pancreatic, oesophageal, and oral malignancies. Extended exposure to carcinogens like tobacco-specific nitrosamines can damage the body's cells and DNA. Even after quitting tobacco, individuals remain susceptible to cancer for up to 15-20 years.
Addiction and Dependency: Smokeless tobacco is highly addictive due to its nicotine content. Users often face challenges when trying to quit due to the physical and psychological dependence it creates. Overcoming the battle against smokeless tobacco requires perseverance and support.
Transitioning to Sustainable Crops: Promoting healthier alternatives involves assisting tobacco growers in transitioning to sustainable crop production. Governments, agricultural organizations, and other stakeholders can support farmers by providing resources, financial incentives, and training to explore and implement novel crops that contribute to improved nutrition and food security.
Education and Awareness: Increasing public knowledge about the risks of smokeless tobacco is crucial. Health organizations, educational institutions, and local governments should launch awareness-raising initiatives highlighting the dangers associated with its use. In addition, emphasising the parallels between smokeless tobacco and smoking regarding their adverse health effects can be beneficial.
Engaging Communities and Peer Support: Creating a supportive environment is crucial in preventing smokeless tobacco use. Encouraging youth organizations, schools, and communities to adopt tobacco-free lifestyles is essential. Peer support programs, where former users share their experiences and provide guidance, can motivate and inspire individuals to quit using smokeless tobacco.
Diversifying Income Sources:Promoting the diversification of revenue sources for tobacco producers can foster resilience and long-term sustainability. In addition, encouraging practices such as better food production, agroforestry, organic farming, or cultivating crops with high market demand can offer new opportunities for farmers while reducing reliance on tobacco.
Targeted Marketing Regulations:Implementing stricter restrictions on smokeless tobacco marketing can reduce consumer attraction, particularly among vulnerable groups like children. Advertising limitations can minimize exposure and discourage experimentation in places children may encounter them, such as sporting events and internet platforms.
Engaging Healthcare Professionals:Healthcare professionals play a crucial role in the fight against smokeless tobacco. They should possess the necessary skills and tools to advise patients on the dangers and quitting options effectively. Promoting regular oral health examinations and assisting those who want to stop can significantly impact.
Tobacco Control Programs:Comprehensive tobacco control programs must include smokeless tobacco prevention. These programs should support quitting tobacco, counselling services, and access to evidence-based therapies. Success depends on designing these programs to address the unique challenges of smokeless tobacco users.
As we strive for a tobacco-free world, we must embrace this year's theme for No Tobacco Day, "We need food, not tobacco," in all our endeavours. By acknowledging the risks associated with smokeless tobacco, promoting preventative measures, and supporting tobacco farmers in transitioning to sustainable crop production, we can simultaneously address public health concerns and improve the livelihoods of those involved in tobacco cultivation. Together, let us unveil the hidden dangers of smokeless tobacco, practice prevention, and develop healthy alternatives that benefit our bodies and foster thriving communities. With collective effort and determination, we can build a future where tobacco no longer threatens our well-being.