It would not be an exaggeration to say that several ministers lobbying against pictorial warnings on tobacco products would identify with Nick Naylor, the character from the satirical movie, “Thank You for Smoking”. After all, in the movie, Naylor has a tough job of convincing people that it is okay to smoke – re-glamourise it, if you will – while projecting a clean self-image to his own teenage son. The ministers, many of whom are said to have stakes in various tobacco industries, have come up with a variety of interesting statements: there is a conspiracy to finish off the Indian beedi (cigarette made of unprocessed tobacco) industry; there are no Indian studies that conclude that smoking causes cancer; several beedi smokers go on to live for 100 years; why not ban sugar as well since it can cause diabetes?
Studies Hold Tobacco Responsible for Causing Cancer
First of all, there are numerous studies conducted by researchers in India which suggest that tobacco indeed causes cancer. The International Journal of Epidemiology featured a case-control study conducted in Bhopal in 2000. The authors, Dikshit & Kanhere, concluded that beedi smoking is a bigger risk factor than cigarettes in the causation of lung and oropharyngeal cancers. True, that the beedi-making industry might suffer losses and the workers may be laid off, if the campaign to reduce smoking is fully implemented. However, tobacco’s adverse impact on health would be far higher if nothing is done to reduce smoking. And those who don’t know, sugar is an essential ingredient of normal diet; tobacco is not.
The current debate about pictorial warnings on tobacco products is uncannily similar to that seen in the film quoted above, wherein the local senator backs inserting a skull-and-cross-bone sign on cigarette packs. Many have questioned whether pictorial warnings, or for that matter, those messages such as ‘smoking is injurious to health’ that pop up each time a character in a film or TV program lights up, will actually reduce smoking. There is at least one study conducted in Mumbai in 2011, and published in the Asian Pacific Journal of Cancer Prevention, that suggests how the pictorial warnings do matter, and people do take cognisance of them while deciding whether to smoke or not.
How to Give Up Smoking?
Leaving that aside, let us look at some of the other methods that could help one give up the habit. It would also be wise to remember that nicotine – the active ingredient in all tobacco products – is one of the most addictive substances, and kicking the butt is no mean task to achieve. As always, prevention is better than cure, which of course would serve well as an argument for inserting pictorial warnings on packs.
- Nicotine gums/lozenges/patches: these are available in the Indian market, even without prescription. They reduce the craving for smoking or chewing tobacco, especially in those who consume more than 20 cigarettes a day or 10 gutkha packs a day.
- Medication: if the above products do not work, then prescription medication might help you quit. Bupropion and varenicline are two drugs that help reduce craving, and are available in India. These, when used in combination with gums and patches, increase the chance of quitting.
- Behavioural therapy: studies have shown that addressing stress and factors related to smoking through behavioural therapy (a type of counselling) would help reduce smoking. This would work better if it is combined with any of the above two strategies.
- Reducing stress: more often than not, a stressful life triggers the habit of smoking. An individual with mental illness of any kind is more likely to get addicted to smoking. Utilise any method that would help reduce stress: yoga, meditation, relaxation therapy, etc. Seek early treatment for mental health issues.
- Avoiding triggers: alcohol consumption induces smoking, since the two habits usually go hand in hand. Post-meal period is also the time when people find smoking irresistible. Chewing gum, drinking tea, or going out for a walk may help distract one from smoking.
- Avoiding cues: watching videos of people smoking, inhaling the cigarette smoke, and being in the company of smokers make it difficult to quit the habit. Avoid all of these; get rid of anything that reminds you of smoking, and if necessary, find yourself a new set of (non-smoking) friends.
- Diet and exercise: eating fruits and vegetables helps you quit smoking. Also, jogging, swimming, and exercising not only improve your overall health, but also keep you away from smoking.
- Monitor the benefits: since smoking causes just about every known health problem, it would be nice to note the improvement in your BP, sugar level and general health once you quit smoking. This would keep you motivated and prevent a relapse of the habit.
- Family support: since it is not the person, but the habit which is bad, it would be wise for the family to approach the problem sympathetically and provide support to the person trying to quit the habit. Similarly, smokers should look at those around them – whether children, their family, or the general public – and realise that passive smoking is as harmful as smoking and use this as a motivating factor to quit. You are only truly considerate as a smoker if you actually quit smoking.
- Determination and abstinence: none of the above measures matter, if you do not, in the first place, have a strong will to quit smoking, and the discipline required to maintain abstinence.
Do not be fooled by the warped arguments of the tobacco lobbyists. Remember, it is your health and your life that is at stake. If you are perusing the pictorial warning on the cigarette or beedi pack, it probably means that the pack is already in your hands. The idea is to stay away from it, or throw it away while you can. The choice of a better lifestyle, quite literally, is in your hands.
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