Tobacco is a well-known health hazard, causing 8 million deaths globally each year. Over 80 per cent of the world’s tobacco users live in low- and middle-income countries.
In India, according to National Family Health Survey-5 (NFHS-5) data, 7 per cent of all deaths in people aged 30 and over are attributed to tobacco consumption.
The India Policy Insights initiative (IPI), under the Geographic Insights Lab at Harvard University, has developed a tool — the IPI Policy Tracker for Districts — that visualises more than 80 NFHS indicators including tobacco consumption. According to the Tracker, the prevalence of tobacco use differs throughout the nation, with the Eastern and North-Eastern regions displaying the highest rates of consumption.
On average in the country, nearly 9 per cent women and 38 per cent men aged 15 and above consumed tobacco. It is worth noting that smokeless tobacco products are deemed more acceptable for women’s consumption, making women more likely to consume them over smoking.
Smokeless tobacco is linked to various health issues, including nicotine addiction, cancers of the mouth, oesophagus, and pancreas, higher risks of premature delivery and stillbirth during pregnancy, and an increased risk of death from heart disease.
According to WHO’s Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS, 2016-17), consumption of smokeless tobacco was the highest in Tripura.
Recently, a study conducted by IPI raises serious concerns regarding the consumption of tobacco, particularly among men, with nearly 83 per cent of all districts in India being off-target, or not likely to lower the prevalence of current tobacco use among persons aged 15 years and older to 5 per cent by 2030.
This is particularly alarming given that most regions of the country have made commendable progress in curbing tobacco consumption among both genders. For women, however, the data is more reassuring, as a majority (69 per cent) of districts have either already achieved or are on track (17.4 per cent) to achieving the SDG target.
The Government launched the National Tobacco Control Programme (NTCP) in 2007-08. The program focuses on training, information campaigns, school programs, monitoring laws, and setting up cessation facilities. However, there is a concerning decline in India’s score on monitoring performance data. To address this, it is crucial to prioritise regular evaluation of policies to ensure effective monitoring and improve data collection on tobacco consumption.
However, any conversation around controlling tobacco consumption is incomplete without considering appropriate rehabilitation measures for farmers engaged in tobacco production.
By providing alternative livelihood opportunities and promoting sustainable agricultural practices, we can ensure a smooth transition for these farmers and contribute to both their well-being and the greater goal of a tobacco-free future.
This calls for the implementation of “just transition” strategies that prioritise the well-being and economic security of tobacco farmers and their communities. Such strategies could include financial support, skill development programs, and access to resources for transitioning to alternative crops or industries.
Mishra and Rao are with The Quantum Hub (TQH), a public policy firm.