Tobacco is everywhere. Since the Europeans reached the Americas and discovered the weird little leaf, the governments the world over have been making money with it. The little leaf is the most toxic, most addictive cancer causing substance that’s legally available throughout the world.
While the smoked form was the most popular the world over, India has been most enthusiastic about the chewed form, especially in the less westernized circles. Tobacco found a natural companion in the traditional and healthy Paan. What used to be a digestive became a carrier of disease.
But what we have now is probably the most dangerous form we have seen: the Gutkha epidemic. दाने दाने में Cancer का दम. It is relatively cheap, easily available, easy to carry and probably tasty. It is also heavily advertised. Apart from sponsoring award shows, Gutkha industry seems to have most of Bollywood A list on its payroll. From Shahrukh and Priyanka to Ajay Devgn they are all making money by selling cancer.
I am a cancer surgeon. Most cancer surgeries in our country are for cancers caused by chewing tobacco. The youngest I have operated upon was 28. He had been using Gutkha since he was 7 or 8. I routinely see young boys in school uniforms chewing Gutkha. You will too once you start to notice.
Yes, tobacco industry is responsible for a lot of work I do. And yet cancer surgeons are at the forefront of the campaign against it. I will survive if there are no tobacco related cancers to treat but I don’t want to treat another guy in 20s who has tobacco-related, totally preventable cancer.
Tobacco destroys lives, families, societies. The least we can do is not advertise it as glamorous. The first step in the fight has to be to stop Bollywood glamorization of this evil. Also a better enforcement of age limit. Almost every tobacco user starts as a student. Can we make it less accessible to students?
We also need to make it cheaper and easier to quit. The nicotine patches help a lot of people but are pretty expensive and both the awareness and availability are very low. We need lower taxes on such products. We need counseling. We need to create more taboos about it.
The government can never do all of this. We need to get involved on the social media as well as in the offline world. Petition the stars endorsing Gutkha. Reach out to local authorities to enforce tobacco free zones around schools. Make counseling and medical aid available to those who want to quit.
And lastly, if you are using, stop. As someone who has seen more people suffer because tobacco than he ever wished to, I can assure you, it’s not worth it.