Meghalaya is the "cancer capital of India" with respect to oesophagal, lung, nose, and throat cancers, says Ram Kumar, Additional Secretary of Health and Family Welfare Department and Mission Director of the National Health Mission, Meghalaya, on the concluding day of a function observing World No Tobacco Day.
Meghalaya, which is a beautiful state located in northeastern India, is one of the seven sister states of the region and shares its borders with Assam to the north and east, Bangladesh to the south and west, and the state of Tripura to the southeast. The capital city of Meghalaya is Shillong. This state, often referred to as the "Abode of Clouds," is now being called India’s "Cancer Capital." Shocked right?
Let’s discuss in this article why this is in the news, World No Tobacco Day, WHO guidelines and many more.
Tobacco problem in Meghalaya
In Meghalaya, it is stated by the sources that 34% of 13 to 15-year-olds and 47% of those aged 15 and above consume tobacco. This very issue has raised concerns in the state with a need to emphasise early screening & a change in lifestyle patterns. Awareness of the effects of tobacco on health, community, and the environment needs to be spread. Such initiative has also received support from village chiefs, parents, MLAs, and religious leaders
“The average life expectancy of citizens in Meghalaya is 62.3 years in comparison with the national average of 68.8 (WHO, 2018). Our state is ranked second in the country in terms of cancer prevalence among men and 11 among women (ICMR-NCDIR, 2021),”- said Principal Secretary (health) Sampath Kumar.
World No Tobacco Day to be observed on May 31st
On 31 May 2023, WHO and public health champions worldwide will come together to celebrate World No Tobacco Day (WNTD) with the theme “We need food, not tobacco”. This 2023 global campaign is aimed at raising awareness about alternative crop production and marketing opportunities for tobacco farmers and motivating them to grow sustainable, nutritious crops. The campaign will also expose the tobacco industry’s efforts to intervene with attempts to substitute tobacco growing with sustainable crops, contributing to the global food crisis.
Tobacco growing contributing to food insecurity
The growing food crisis is motivated by several conflicts and wars, climatic shocks, and the economic and social impacts of the pandemic. A closer look into tobacco growing reveals the truth of how it contributes to increased food insecurity, That is:
Worldwide, around 3.5 million hectares of land are converted for tobacco growing yearly. This move even results in the deforestation of 200,000 hectares a year.
Tobacco growing is resource intensive, thereby needing heavy use of pesticides and fertilisers, resulting in soil degradation.
Land that had been used for tobacco growing will bear a lower capacity for growing any other crop, such as food, depleting soil fertility.
Tobacco farming has a far more destructive impact compared to livestock grazing or maize growing on ecosystems, as tobacco farmlands are more prone to desertification.
Any profits to be gained from tobacco as a cash crop cannot undo the damage done to sustainable food production in low- and middle-income countries. So, there is an urgent requirement to take legal measures to reduce tobacco growing and increase the production of alternative crops.
WHO Tobacco Guidelines in India: How India battles tobacco?
The World Health Organization (WHO) has established guidelines and recommendations to address the use of tobacco & curb its harmful effects. These guidelines are designed to help countries implement effective measures to reduce tobacco consumption, protect people from exposure to tobacco smoke etc. Here are some key aspects of the WHO's tobacco guidelines in India:
Tobacco Control Framework: The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) is an international treaty which provides a comprehensive framework for tobacco control to which India is a signatory.
Smoke-free Policies: The WHO recommends implementing smoke-free policies to help people combat exposure to secondhand smoke. In India, the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act (COTPA) prohibits smoking in public places, including workplaces, educational institutions, and public transport.
Health Warnings: The WHO advises using large, pictorial health warnings on tobacco product packaging to educate consumers. These tobacco product packages are required to display graphic health warnings that cover 85% of the principal display area.
Advertising, Promotion, and Sponsorship: The WHO recommends tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship restrictions to reduce tobacco’s appeal. In India, there are strict regulations on tobacco advertising, including bans on direct and indirect advertisements.
Tobacco Taxation: The WHO advocates for increasing tobacco taxes as an effective measure to reduce the consumption of tobacco products.
Problems with Tobacco Cultivators
The livelihood of a tobacco cultivator is not a treat to our eyes, for sure. The intensive handling of insecticides and toxic chemicals during tobacco cultivation contributes to many farmers and their families suffering from health issues.
Another prominent problem is the unfair contractual arrangements with tobacco companies which keep farmers impoverished, and the children getting involved with tobacco cultivation losing their right to education & human rights.
9 of the 10 largest tobacco cultivators are low and middle-income countries, and 4 of these are defined as low-income food-deficit countries. Also, land used to grow tobacco could be more efficiently used to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 2 – zero hunger.
The 2023 WNTD campaign calls on governments and policy-makers to step up legislation and develop appropriate policies & strategies, enabling market conditions for tobacco farmers to shift to growing food crops which would give them and their families a better life. The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control also offers specific principles and policy options for promoting economically viable alternatives for tobacco workers, growers and individual sellers.
So, this World Tobacco Day on May 31st, let’s all say ‘NO’ to tobacco.