Every day as I leave from work, I see men, old and young alike, making a beeline for the local paan (betel leaf) vendor. Some are busy chewing paan while others indulge in a quick "stress-free" smoking session.
The other day I noticed a group of young lads next to the same paan shop. They all must have been in their early teens. One of them bought a packet of cigarettes and started blowing smoke rings as the others watched in amazement. He then offered it to a friend who at first declined but finally accepted it after much persuasion by the group. He looked like a first timer. This boy took the first puff, coughed, gave it back, took it back and puffed again.
And there it was. Another youth falling for the bloody stick.
Why is it hard to say NO to another puff?
The answer is nicotine, an addictive substance in tobacco, which is as addictive as heroin or cocaine.
What's in a smoke you wonder, especially if you are a young reader or a new smoker. Well, there are over 4,000 chemicals in cigarettes. Over 50 of them are known to be carcinogenic. A carcinogen is something that causes cancer. And we all know that cancer is a disease that often kills those who have it.
But do you know how much harm can one puff of a cigarette cause you?
Well, honestly, one puff will not cause you harm, but it could lead you to fall into a trap. It wouldn't get you addicted but it could spark a curiosity to continue which will lead to addiction.
It really worries me to see the sorry state of tobacco consumption in our country. It inflicts huge damage on the health of Indians and could be clocking up a death toll of 1.5 million a year by 2020 if more users are not persuaded to kick the habit.
I recall a news item last year that quoted how the number of people smoking has increased in the past three decades from almost 75 million to over 110 million. In fact, India, with over 12 million women smokers in 2012, compared to just 5.3 million in 1980, has more women smoking than any other country except the US.
All this and a more saddening situation still prevail despite smoking being recognized as the third biggest health risk for Indians and despite all the anti-tobacco and smoke-free laws.
I think that more than anything, it is important to remember that as individuals become emancipated to make more choices, they are free to make bad ones. It is too bad that many of the women in India see smoking as a way of flaunting their freedom. There are so many other ways to celebrate autonomy and personal choice. Becoming a slave to smoking is not a good way to do it.
Going by the look of it, if the trend of an increase in cigarette smoking prevalence continues among Indian women, chronic health problems such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and lung cancer will also rise in about 20 years. It is unlikely that India's healthcare system will be ready for that.
COPD is a set of lung diseases, including chronic bronchitis, emphysema and chronic obstructive airways disease. People with COPD have trouble breathing in and out, due to long-term damage to the lungs, usually because of smoking.
Coming back to chemicals in cigarettes and cigarette smoke, they cause not only cancer but also other serious health problems. Tar, for example, is the oily material which remains after tobacco passes through the filter. When a smoker inhales, a lot of the tar sticks to and blackens the lungs.
I am sure we all have seen the advisory advertisements that they play before a film start at most movie halls. Imagine that happening inside your body. How does that feel? Scary, I am sure.
So now that you know what's in a smoke, you have a choice. You can be a happy non-smoker if you have never tried one or have quit or you can choose to become an addicted smoker. Consider carefully which way of life better suits you - a slave to a deadly leaf or a smoke free person? The choice is yours.
Early symptoms of Lung cancer include:
- Coughing that lasts, blood in the cough or sputum
- Shortness of breath
- Hoarse voice
- High pitch sound when talking
- Pain in chest area
- Tiredness that lasts
The most optimum time for lung cancer screening is before the symptoms appear. Sadly, lung cancer is detected only after symptoms appear. It is time we took charge of our lung health before it is too late.
(Dr. (Prof) Arvind Kumar, is Chairman, Centre for Chest Surgery, and Director, Institute of Robotic Surgery at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at email@example.com)