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Pictorial Warnings Work: Every Second Tobacco Consumer Thinking of Quitting

Aradhna Wal |

Updated: June 12, 2017, 7:26 PM IST
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Pictorial Warnings Work: Every Second Tobacco Consumer Thinking of Quitting
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New Delhi: From 2010 to 2017, 81 lakh adults have stopped consuming tobacco in India, early results from the second round of the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) showed. Based on interviews with 74,037 Indians, aged 15 and above, between August 2016 and February 2017, GATS-2 showed a decrease of six percentage points in tobacco users and revealed the impact of public health awareness measures against tobacco.

Even though every fifth adult uses smokeless tobacco and every tenth adult smokes tobacco, as over 50 percent of adults are not only aware of illnesses but also thinking of or planning to quit.

This understanding of the effects of tobacco on the body, seems to have come after many hindrances in implementing larger pictorial warnings on tobacco product packs.

The first round of GATS put the number of people using tobacco in India at 34.6 percent. This is down to 24.8 percent in GATS-2, 26.7 crore in absolute numbers, a "very encouraging result," said Arun Kumar Jha, economic advisor to the Union health ministry, even though he called the number of people still using tobacco in India, "frightening".

However, of those still consuming tobacco, more and more people are considering to quit on seeing pictorial warnings — 61.9 percent cigarette smokers now, compared with 38 percent during GATS-1.

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Similarly, 53.8 percent bidi users and 46.2 percent smokeless tobacco users are thinking of quitting, thanks to pictorial warnings, compared with 29.3 percent and 33.8 percent, respectively during GATS-1.

Ministry officials seemed relieved they had managed to reach so many people, despite the touchy topic of farmers' dependence on growing tobacco for their livelihood, an argument used repeatedly by the tobacco lobby against public health measures to discourage people from smoking or chewing tobacco.

"Tobacco is one of the largest causes of preventable death," said Jha, "and implementing tobacco control is one of the targets of the Sustainable Development Goals." The pictorial warnings and the Supreme Court ban on chewable tobacco — gutka — seemed to have driven the number of users down.

The larger pictorial warnings — covering 85 percent of a packet's surface area — on cigarette packs came into effect in April 2016, pushed through finally by a Supreme Court directive. It was supposed to be implemented in April 2015, but was stalled by efforts of the Parliamentary Committee on Subordinate Legislation, which said in its report "in order to have a balanced approach, the warning on the cigarette packets should be 50 percent on both sides of the principal display area, instead of 85 percent of the principal display area as it will be too harsh".

The Committee's member Shyama Charan Gupta runs a bidi business and its chairman Dilip Gandhi claimed that no Indian study proved that tobacco caused cancer.

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Now, 92 percent of adults, up from 83 percent, believe that smoking tobacco causes "serious illness"; 96 percent adults, up from 89 percent, believe the same about smokeless tobacco.

"55 percent of smokers and 50 per cent of smokeless tobacco users are planning or thinking of quitting tobacco use", said highlights of the survey, released by the Union health ministry.

Still, the number of users in rural areas, 19.9 crore, far outnumbers those in urban areas, 6.8 crore. As in GATS-1, the most used tobacco products in India remains khaini, a smokeless tobacco product, and beedi, as 11 percent, or 10.4 crore, adults used the former and eight percent, or 7.2 crore, adults smoked the latter. This is down from 18 percent khaini users and 16 percent bidi users.

Men still smoke far more than women; of the 28.6 percent tobacco users, 49.4 percent are men and 14.2 percent are women. In GATS-1, it was 47.9 percent men and 20.3 percent women.

GATS-2 found an increase in one year in the age at which the youth, the 15 to 24 years olds, start smoking; from 17.9 years to 18.9 years old. Overall, the prevalence of tobacco use decreased among the 15-24 years olds from 18.4 percent to 12.4 percent.

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First Published: June 12, 2017, 7:22 PM IST
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