Tobacco use is a leading cause of preventable death in India, causing nearly 1.35 million deaths a year. On 28th July 2022, medical doctors and young people came together for a virtual roundtable in an effort to unpack and better understand the effects of tobacco use on youth health and well-being.
‘Youth Health and Well-Being: Doctors’ Dialogue on Reducing Tobacco Consumption in India,’ organized by MASH Project Foundation with technical partner Vital Strategies, brought together 8 medical practitioners and experts across 8 health specializations and had 87 participants from more than 6 youth networks.
According to India’s Global Youth Tobacco Survey, 2019, more than 54% of young people initiate tobacco use before age 10, which may lead to nicotine addiction and a range of chronic illnesses such as cancer, lung diseases, heart diseases and stroke. Youth are constantly lured to initiate tobacco use—with tobacco too readily available in the market or advertisements in stores and across social media.
“India as a country is severely struggling with illnesses and preventable deaths due to tobacco consumption in various forms, a usual sight in cancer hospitals. An average of 8.5% of students belonging to the age groups of 13 to 15 consume tobacco in one or more forms. I genuinely wish and hope to see a tobacco-free India in my lifetime,” said Dr. L Swasticharan, keynote speaker and Deputy Director, Directorate General of Health Services, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
The roundtable was moderated by Dr. Vikrant Mohanty, Department of Public Health Dentistry, Maulana Azad Institute of Dental Sciences, who was joined by a young leader and co-moderator, Priyaswara Bharti, Ashoka Young Changemaker & Founder Bihar Youth For Child Rights. The panelists included prominent medical specialists of India: Dr. M.K. Sen, a pulmonologist from Department of Respiratory Medicine, ESIC Medical College; Dr. Ambuj Roy, clinical cardiologist and Additional Professor of Cardiology, All India Institute of Medical Sciences; oncology surgeon Dr. Arjun Singh from Tata Memorial Hospital; and Dr. L. Swasticharan. Additionally, the second panel comprised of Dr. Neelam Mishra, Associate Consultant Rehabilitation Psychologist at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital; Dr. Mukta Agarwal, Additional Professor, Dept of Obstetrics and Gynecology, AIIMS; as well as nutritionist and influencer Mitushi Ajmera.
“While tobacco is popularly perceived to have hazardous implications on the smoker, secondhand smokers are also subjected to a range of health-related repercussions. Besides cancer, what a lot of people do not know is tobacco consumption can considerably increase the chances of developing heart diseases and cause brain stroke, especially among youngsters. It has been found that every one in four heart attacks happen to those below the age of 40. While smoking increases the chances of heart attacks by almost six times, chewing tobacco also increases the risk by almost double. Both in the case of active and passive smokers, more than half of these heart attacks can be prevented by eliminating tobacco consumption completely,” said Dr. Ambuj Roy, a clinical cardiologist and Additional Professor of Cardiology, All Institute of Medical Sciences.
The virtual roundtable was an opportunity to initiate conversations between representatives of the medical community and youth, including students, young professionals, and members of various youth organizations, to discuss pressing public health concerns around tobacco use.
“Tobacco consumption is one of the biggest barriers to young people’s holistic good health and well-being and India’s growth,” said Aashish Beergi, the CEO of MASH Project Foundation. “It became very apparent through the conversations we had with young people through the previous ‘Charcha Se Change’ national youth convening we organized with Tata Memorial Centre on Jan. 26 of this year. After that, we felt a strong need to create a platform that brings together young people and medical experts in conversation and speaking about the various facets of youth health. We are glad we had opinion leaders from the medical community at this roundtable, including strong voices like that of Dr. Swasticharan from the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.”
The discussion, part of the ongoing #IndiaVsTobacco campaign, was followed by the unveiling of interactive billboards, ‘Scan for a Healthier Future,’ that highlights the health risks of secondhand smoke exposure and smokeless tobacco, and a microsite, Breakup Now, that encourages a better understanding of health and wellness among youth.
The #IndiaVsTobacco billboard campaign, led by Tata Memorial Centre and technical partner Vital Strategies, engages young people, parents, and institutions to work toward a tobacco-free India. The interactive billboards aim to generate conversations about the health risks that tobacco inflicts on our society and highlight the harms of secondhand smoke and smokeless tobacco. Each billboard is covered with either smoke or gutka stains, which hide a key fact about secondhand smoke and smokeless tobacco use. People can view these hidden messages only by scanning the QR code through their phones.
“In India, people consume dangerous smokeless tobacco products which include gutka, khaini, zarda, and paan masala, as they are cheap and easily available. Along with that, subtle and indirect advertising of such chewable tobacco products has led to promotion in the consumption of this product. The Tata Memorial Hospital is happy to support #IndiaVsTobacco, a campaign that aims to create awareness and a positive change to the overshadowed hazardous effects of smoking, secondhand smoking and the various forms of tobacco in a multifaceted manner. This year perilous diseases such as lung cancer, heart disease and asthma are going to be the reasons for a great number of deaths in India. I am very happy to be a part of this movement and I surely wish to see a tobacco-free future,” said Dr. Arjun Singh, Head and Neck Surgical Oncologist, Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon, Tata Memorial Hospital.
“The idea was to highlight the health impact that secondhand smoking and smokeless tobacco has on everyone and that it can’t be taken lightly,” said Vaishakhi Mallik, Associate Director, Policy Advocacy and Communication, Vital Strategies. “We wanted to create something that would pique people’s curiosity enough to stop and engage with the billboard and then help spread the message of tobacco-free India to their peers and family. The intention is to make people rethink tobacco use, given how harmful secondhand smoke can be to people’s health.”
In New Delhi, these scannable billboards have been installed in and around public places, including Kashmere Gate and Kalkaji Mandir metro-train stations, Delhi Vidhan Sabha Metro Station, Jama Masjid, Dhaula Kuan bus stops and Moolchand T-point hoarding space, for four weeks with the aim to engage the public, especially young people, with messages on tobacco use, secondhand smoke exposure and its deadly health impact.