“Smoking is injurious to health”.
We are well acquainted with this phrase. It can be found in movies, advertisements and even on the packet of cigarettes. But can the implications of smoking be captured in this one phrase?
To get an insight into the harmful effects of smoking, on World No Tobacco Day, we spoke to Dr Sumedha Kushwaha , a dentist by profession and the founder of ATTAC a Non- profit organisation aiming to terminate tobacco and cancer.
“Tobacco, in all its forms, is a menace that has disrupted the socio-economic fabric of our country obstinately...its consumers or users succumb to its addiction and accept it as a part of their lifestyle.” she tells us.
“The most vivid clinical case etched in my mind from my undergraduate years was of a 13 year old child suffering from oral cancer caused by chewing of tobacco in the form of Gutka which was easily accessible being sold in flashy packets just outside the school gate"
It is evident that the demand for tobacco is widespread among the destitute and impoverished population. This is understandable due to its easy availability and affordable prices. Children from such households can be found chewing Gutka in almost every corner of Indian streets. “The most vivid clinical case etched in my mind from my undergraduate years was of a 13 year old child suffering from oral cancer caused by chewing of tobacco in the form of Gutka which was easily accessible being sold in flashy packets just outside the school gates on a bicycle in a nearby village. The young child had no clue as to consequences of consuming such conveniently attainable cancer causing substances...” Dr Kushwaha adds.
According to a 2002 WHO estimate, 70% of adult males in India smoke. Among adult females, the figure is much lower at between 13–15%. About 90% of children under the age of 16 years (10th class) have used some form of tobacco in the past, and 70% are still using tobacco products. Smokeless tobacco is more prevalent than cigarettes or bidis in India.
Let the conversation begin…
So how does one become an addict, what are the effects of tobacco consumption and what does quitting look like?
Aanchal Goswami, a student pursuing MA in Gender studies, shares her story with us, “I tried smoking for the first time in college. It was just an experiment and slowly it became a habit. I started smoking to make myself feel better for a few seconds. Earlier, I used to smoke one cigarette in a week and then five in a day. I smoked every time I was anxious because I thought it would make me feel better and yes it did make me feel better but only for seconds. It was affecting my mental health badly. One fine day, I promised my best friend that I would quit smoking no matter what.
Slowly, I decreased buying number of cigarettes from five to four then four to two and now I don’t smoke at all. The best way to stop smoking is by distracting oneself by engaging in better things like art, writing and listening to music. It’s better to do planks and release stress than spending money on cigarettes. I feel proud of myself for coming out of addiction.”
“Tobacco use leads to diseases affecting the heart, liver and lungs. Smoking is a major risk factor for heart attacks, strokes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and several cancers. The effects depend on the number of years that a person smokes and on how much the person smokes. Starting smoking earlier in life and smoking cigarettes higher in tar increases the risk of these diseases.” Dr Kushwaha elaborates on the effects of tobacco consumption.
“I knew it was a bad thing but I didn’t know it would take away my life.” she further remembers the 13 year old saying after he was diagnosed with oral cancer.
Dr Akshatha Bala, a spirituality and mind-set coach, who has been treating patients with addiction, smoking, anxiety, depression and other psychological illnesses for 17 years now, she shared some of the stories of her clients who struggled with addiction but ultimately found their way to recovery.
“One of my female clients, let’s call her KC, started smoking at the age of 12. Her father passed away that year. He smoked. They were the wonderful father-daughter duo. She beamed while her eyes went moist many times as she shared those stories of her father. All these stories besides the common thread of joy were the smell of cigarettes and smoke. He didn’t smoke around her but she said he always smelled of it. When he was no more, she kept going to his room and his drawer to feel his presence in the smell that was so familiar. The smell that meant he was still around.
Eventually she lit one up and then never looked back. Doing this she kept her dear father and his memories alive. At 32 when I saw her, we helped her grieve, helped her see how life works in terms of birth and death. Doing this helped her release those emotions which she didn’t know she still had held onto them. Today she’s smoke free for years.”
She said she really wanted to quit but just wasn’t able to. She also mentioned that every year she’d stop smoking on religious grounds. Right after that month she’d get back at it. She began smoking at 22 when her friends passed her a cigarette and said, “Wanna try?” It was as simple as that.
But counselling doesn’t always lead to successful results. As Dr Kushwaha explains, “out of many people we counsel only a handful quit tobacco and some leave therapy mid-way, never to be seen again. De-addiction counselling isn’t always successful. We conduct thorough medical health check-up in addition with general body tests like blood pressure, measurement, body mass index and so on.”
For Dr Bala there is no one strategy which is universal in tackling addiction. “AM, a client, had been smoking for about 18 years when I saw her. She said she really wanted to quit but just wasn’t able to. She also mentioned that every year she’d stop smoking on religious grounds. Right after that month she’d get back at it. She began smoking at 22 when her friends passed her a cigarette and said, “Wanna try?”
It was as simple as that. She didn’t know when that turned into a ritual or sorts and then became a daily feature, multiple times a day. She now wanted to stop as she felt there was no novelty in it anymore. And she was growing more conscious of how it had affected her skin and internal health, though not alarmingly. If she had the capability to stop intermittently I knew exactly what I had to do with her, to map out the same skill set to help her stop smoking for life. And on the other side of one sitting of 10 minutes she was an ex-smoker already. We were both so thrilled!”
How recovery looks like
According to Dr Bala, “In all those who quit, some common changes were noticed. In a few months the glow in their skin came back along with a renewed sense of energy. Many found themselves enrolling in a hobby class; some found it in them to get into yoga and other forms of exercise. One of them is now a marathoner as she now breathes freely with a happier set of lungs. And most importantly the successful dealing of the causes of smoking led them to become happier people.”
Snigdha Gupta is an intern with SheThePeople.Tv