31st May is observed as World No Tobacco Day across the world. The day is observed each year to inform the public about the dangers associated with the consumption of tobacco. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the 31st May as World No Tobacco Day in 1987, to fight against the tobacco epidemic that was highly prevalent at the time. The WHO intended to educate people about the impact they cause to themselves, others as well as their future generations by consuming tobacco.
World No Tobacco Day 2020 – Theme
WHO has announced that the theme for World No Tobacco Day 2020 is #TobaccoExposed. The global campaign is aimed at debunking the myths and exposing the devious tactics employed by the tobacco selling companies. It will provide young people with the knowledge required to easily detect industry manipulation and equip them with the tools to rebuff such tactics, thereby empowering young people to stand up against them. This is especially important right now as studies have indicated that smokers have a higher risk for a severe case of coronavirus.
To this end, WHO has called upon all young people to join the fight to become a tobacco-free generation. The organisation has set up a campaign on its website which consist of fact sheets, videos as well as quizzes to encourage people to not pick up a habit of consuming tobacco and to quit it in case one is already using it.
Tobacco Ban during COVID-19 Lockdown in India
According to Union Ministry officials, over 24 states and union territories in India including Gujarat, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, among others, have banned the use of smokeless tobacco products and spitting in public places in order to contain the spread of COVID-19 pandemic. Although public health experts have welcomed the move, the ban has given rise to a whole new set of problems.
The lockdown imposed in the country resulted in shut down of Pan-shops across the country, which was responsible for the sale of tobacco products. The availability of the products also got affected negatively since transportation was halted considering that tobacco was not enlisted under essential services. While some tobacco consumers have been able to deal with it since they were not under a severe addiction, things have not been smooth for others.
Girish, a worker in a catering firm in Rajasthan is addicted to Beedi. However, since the shops are closed, he has to go out to buy it illegally, which is easily 10 times more than what he paid earlier. No job, and staying indoors has stressed him out. He cannot possibly deal with withdrawal symptoms at this time and upset his daughter. So he has to keep smoking even if it cuts a hole in his pocket. “I am trying to reduce it though. And I plan on quitting gradually. I just can’t afford the addiction anymore. But there is little I can do at this point,” he said.
Similar is the plight of Dilip, a farmer in Gujarat, who was forced to quit consuming tobacco as he couldn’t afford to buy illegally. “I tried to go to the store. But there was a policeman. He asked me why I stepped out? I got so scared, I apologised and ran away from there without even checking if the shop was open,” he said. Dilip has not consumed tobacco since lockdown and has managed to hold himself well. However, he says, “the ban has not stopped the sale. It has only made it more expensive and illegal.”
Tobacco consumption is dangerous for health. It is responsible for 1 death every 8 seconds in India. It is in the utmost benefit of the people if they quit tobacco. However, it is well established that quitting cold turkey can cause more harm to the addicts than good. In addition to this, a ban on anything does not ensure that it is the end of it. It only increases illegal consumption, which on many levels is more dangerous. Therefore, the government will need to be more vigilant but will need to open the sale of tobacco. In addition to this, the government, with the help of civil society will need to work up strong anti-tobacco campaigns to ensure that there is a lasting impact of the same.