World No Tobacco Day 2019: As a movie-goer, I am sure we all must have been introduced to “Mukesh” at some point of time, the guy who got mouth cancer owing to chewing tobacco, the little girl falling prey to passive smoking by her father and Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar, lecturing a man about his insensitiveness. How much ever intentionally, did we land ourselves uplate to the theatre to be spared from the torment of such “worthless” advertisements issued by the Government of India on public interest, life has absolutely not done away with them yet. A recent report brought out by the World Health Organization suggests “Tobacco kills more than 7 million people each year. More than 6 million of those deaths are the result of direct tobacco use while around 890,000 are the result of non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke.”

Every year, on May 31, the World Health Organization (WHO) and global partners celebrate World No Tobacco Day (WNTD) to raise awareness on the harmful and deadly effects of tobacco use and second-hand smoke exposure, and to discourage the use of tobacco in any form. The focus of World No Tobacco Day 2019 is on “tobacco and lung health.”

Smoking is one of the major contributors to the rise of lung cancer. Peer pressure and in an attempt to look cool, the younger generation neglect the harmful effects of smoking. Oral cancer continues to be the leading form of cancer for men in rural as well as urban India. Tobacco chewing, especially among the poor, is considered the single biggest cause for oral cancer in India. In fact, as per one estimate, 30 to 60 percent of all cancers among men are due to tobacco consumption. Oral cancer is among the top three cancers in India, number one among all cancers in men and number three among female cancers.

While speaking of the innumerable ways by which tobacco is murdering us daily, its relationship with cancer undoubtedly tops the list. It is true that smoking tobacco products give rise to almost nine out of every 10 cases of lung cancer, but there are equal chances of other parts of the body getting affected as well such as blood, bladder, colon, rectum, cervix, kidney, liver, larynx, mouth, throat, pancreas, bronchi, trachea, esophagus, renal pelvis and stomach.

Also, tobacco smoke constitutes a number of chemicals capable of wreaking cancer, commonly known as carcinogens. So every time you inhale that smoke, those chemicals meddle with the bloodstream, circulating those deadly compounds to all parts of your body. The worst part is many of those chemicals possess the ability to alter the DNA. The function of DNA otherwise is to control how the body produces new cells along with directing each of those cells to act what it is originally made for. However, a damaged DNA could lead those cells to grow differently than how they are supposed to be, this unusualness ultimately aggravating into cancer. Smokeless tobacco products, such as dipping and chewing tobacco, could induce cancer, too, including cancers of the pancreas, mouth and throat and oesophagus. Moreover, the fact that passive smoking could be harmful, is not a myth after all, at least from the figures revealed by WHO.

“SMOKING IS INJURIOUS TO HEALTH. SMOKING CAUSES CANCER.”

These are the phrases that reverberate louder before us for the umpteenth time than the loudest of the political processions, starting right from cinema theatre, movie subtitles to our neatly packed cigarette boxes even. Thanks to the theory of selective perception, as such disclaimers tend to draw the attention of only those few, who are not into tobacco altogether while the bigger victims go around turning a deaf ear. Tobacco is often perceived as a stress buster or a style statement despite the presence of a millions of better alternatives to make you look and feel good.

Yet, the good news is, no matter how long you have consumed tobacco or smoked, backing off any time, could always be the saviour and enhance your chances of a fruitful and healthy life devoid of the horrors of ailments. No amount of advice really helps, at the end of the day all it takes is sheer willpower from within to give up tobacco once and for all. Most people these days are of the opinion that even non-smokers might suffer from cancer. Well, that is true to an extent. The sources of cancer could be many, but the very fact that “Tobacco” alone plays a paramount part in it, is indeed something to be terribly alarmed of.

Hence it is important now for engaging stakeholders across multiple sectors in the fight for tobacco control. It’s time to prevent lung cancer, rather than trying to cure it. Let us all increase awareness on: the negative impact that tobacco has on people’s lung health, from cancer to chronic respiratory disease, the fundamental role lungs play for the health and well-being of all people.

(Author Gitika Srivastava is the Founder of Navya, a Bangalore-based clinical informatics company, founded in collaboration with Tata Memorial Centre and National Cancer Grid)