Over the past few years, the 31st of May is celebrated across the globe as World No Tobacco Day (or, WNTD for today’s yuppies for whom acronyms are imperative for attaining social nirvana.)
Why the hype and tamasha over such a seemingly minor issue? What’s the big deal if someone wants to spend a few rupees on a cigarette or on a wad of tobacco?
Smoking typically begins as a teenage fad. An adolescent telling the world that he is now an adult. It makes him feel good.
As Indians we know just how powerful this ‘Feel Good Factor’, really is!
The vast majority of the country may be wallowing in poverty, yet if the regional cricket team wins one match, even under dubious circumstances, or a film star is allowed a few seconds on the international red carpet then the FGF kicks in and, abracadabra, all is well and we are in Heaven!!
But I digress…
Those of us who are past the top of the hill and are now picking our way down the other side, will surely recall moments in our youth where we did silly, often harmless, things before settling down to becoming responsible citizens. The very thought of what was ‘hep’ and fun then, now often makes us cringe with embarrassment.
So, if a young adolesent wants to smoke why not let him? After all, it’s not that he is doing drugs. And he is old enough to understand the risks. Right?
For one, tobacco is a drug. It contains nicotine that acts directly on the brain cells. Prolonged use causes a craving that is similar to the withdrawal symptoms seen with drugs like cocaine, heroin etc. Once addicted it is a habit that most smokers will admit is not easy to break.
This may be one of those ‘silly things’ we do in our youth.
But the big, big difference is that it tends to stick with us, and, to extend the metaphor, is known to clear the way to a much straighter and definitely shorter path down the proverbial hill.
Secondly, does a young teenager really understand the risks involved? Imagine telling a 17 year old whose future plans are limited to the next couple of months at most, that he may be curtailing his life expectancy by a decade or so.
He is hardly likely to be trembling at the knees in fear.
The fact that drug companies spend huge sums of money in advertising, mesmerizing youngsters into believing that tobacco is the coolest way to achieve adulthood, contributes enormously to masking the full realization of this incredibly lethal health hazard. (In 1994 US tobacco companies spent an estimated 5 billion dollars to advertise and promote cigarettes. This works out to more than 13 million dollars per day!!).
It is no wonder, then, that over 5000 Indian youngsters join the ever-growing community of smokers EVERY DAY! Contrary to the trend in developed countries the incidence of tobacco use in India is increasing alarmingly.
The anti-tobacco fact list is endless, each fact a shocker in its own right.
Yet sales of tobacco products are brisk. And, despite legislation, advertisers find novel new ways to entice. Year after year. Decade upon decade.
The only official caution being the so-called statutory warning; those six amazingly simple words that must surely represent the most colossal understatement of all time:
“Cigarette Smoking Is Injurious To Health!”