Unhealthy living pushing Indians to ‘silent killers’

NEW DELHI: Smokers face a 40-50 per cent higher risk of severe diseases and death from COVID-19, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said on Monday highlighting that over 1.3 million fatalities are attributable to tobacco use every year in India, which is an avoidable socio-economic burden impacting the country’s development.

These remarks were made by Vardhan as he chaired an event to mark the World No Tobacco Day and led the pledge by everyone present to abstain from tobacco, a health ministry statement said.

With the persistent efforts of the central and state governments, the prevalence of tobacco use has decreased from 34.6 per cent in 2009-10 to 28.6 per cent in 2016-17, he said.

“In India, over 1.3 million deaths are attributable to tobacco use every year amounting to 3,500 deaths per day, imposing a lot of avoidable socio-economic burden.

In addition to the deaths and diseases it causes, tobacco also impacts the economic development of the country,” he was quoted as saying in the statement.

He also pointed out that smokers face a 40-50 per cent higher risk of developing severe diseases and deaths from COVID-19, according to the statement.

According to the WHO study titled “Economic Costs of Diseases and Deaths Attributable to Tobacco Use in India”, it has been estimated that the economic burden of diseases and deaths attributable to tobacco use of tobacco in India was as high as Rs.1.77 lakh crores, amounting to approximately 1 per cent of GDP.

Vardhan underlined the country’s long history of incrementally decreasing tobacco consuming population through legal and administrative means.

“Tobacco control legislation in India dates back to ‘Cigarettes Act, 1975’ which mandates display of statutory health warnings in advertisement and on cartons and cigarette packages,” he stated.

Recollecting his long fight against tobacco at every step of his career, Vardhan said, “As Delhi Health Minister, I got an opportunity to conceive the ‘Delhi Prohibition of Smoking and Non Smokers Health Protection Act’ and have it passed in the Delhi assembly in 1997.

This very statute became the model for the central legislation banning smoking in public places in 2002, on the directions of the Supreme Court.”

“This was followed by comprehensive tobacco control legislation in 2003 [Cigarettes and other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade, Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Act, COTPA, 2003] which aims to provide smoke-free public places and also places restrictions on tobacco advertisement and promotion,” he said.

Speaking on the staunch political commitment of the government in curbing tobacco use, he said, “When I joined as Union Health Minister, I decided to combat the menace of e-cigarettes and conceived the ‘Prohibition of Electronic Cigarettes Bill, 2019’ which prohibits production, manufacture, import, export, transport, sale, distribution, storage and advertisement of e-cigarettes.”

“The exemplary leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi convinced different stakeholders and allowed for the smooth passage of the Bill by parliament in 2019.

Sustained government efforts have contributed to saving the country from the menace of e-cigarettes which could have disproportionately affected the teenage population,” he said.

Vardhan also highlighted the proliferation of calls to tobacco quitline services.

“We have toll free quitline services 1800-112-356 initiated in 2016, that were expanded in September 2018.

The services are now available in 16 languages and other local dialects from 4 centres. The number of calls on the quit line was 20,500 per month which increased to 2.

50 lakh per month after the expansion,” he was quoted as saying in the statement.

He reiterated his appeal to the people to quit use of tobacco and tobacco products.

The Union health minister spoke on the ambitious goals of The National Health Policy 2017 with respect to tobacco control.

“We have set an ambitious target of reducing tobacco use by 30 per cent by 2025.

Our tobacco control targets have been devised keeping in view the targets for control of non-communicable diseases and are consistent with the targets set under the SDGs.

We will be soon releasing the findings of fourth round of Global Youth Tobacco Survey conducted among 13-15 year school going students,” he said.

He also thanked all other partner organisations, ministry officials, ground workers and notably, the WHO for the gains made in curbing tobacco use so far.

Vardhan thanked WHO Director General for recognising his services and that of the health ministry work on tobacco control in 2021 for conferring Director General’s Special Recognition Award in 2021, the statement said.

Every year, the World Health Organization (WHO) recognises individuals or organisations in each of the six WHO regions for their accomplishments in the area of tobacco control.