Chewable Tobacco Major Health Threat, Needs Regulation: Doctors

NEW DELHI: Chewable tobacco is emerging as a major threat in India when it comes to causing cancer that affects 11 lakh people a year, top doctors today said while urging the government to increase taxation on it to reduce its consumption.

Over 700 delegates from around 15 foreign countries have gathered in Delhi for a four-day global conference on head-neck cancer, organised by International Federation of Head and Neck Oncologic Societies (IFHNOS) and Foundation for Head-Neck Oncology (FHNO).

They also urged the government to remove tobacco and cigarette vendors from near school and college premises. There are 11 lakh incidences of cancer every year in India, as per the estimates of Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR). And 2.5-3 lakh cases are of head and neck cancer. Over 80 per cent of head and neck cancer are caused by tobacco alone.

“Head and neck cancers are emerging as the major killers now, and if the sale and consumption of chewable tobacco like beedi-khaini, tambaku, gutka and zarda are not regulated, it will increase the country’s health burden dramatically,” said Dr Alok Thakar, professor of head-neck surgery and otorhinolaryngology at the AIIMS.

Dr Thakar, Organising Chairman of the conference, and a host of other oncologists from India’s top cancer-cure institutions like Tata Memorial Centre, addressed a press conference here on the opening day of the conference today.

“27 per cent male population is affected by head-neck cancer while its incidence is 10-12 per cent in women. In foreign countries, lung cancer is more prevalent, as people smoke more tobacco than chew it, unlike in India, where every nook and cranny sell chewable tobacco in the open,” he said.
“The incidences have increase in the last decade or so. 10-15 years ago, the incidence was about 8 lakh. People today consume gutka and zarda like saunf and that is very dangerous, more so the youth are consuming chewable tobacco from very early age,” he added.

Dr Anil D’Cruz, Director of Mumbai-based Tata Memorial Centre, said, “I have operated on a cancer patient as young as an 8-year-old boy. He was chewing tobacco from time when he was four.”

“Tobacco consumption has begun in schools and so it is important that law is properly enforced and tobacco and cigarette vendors found violating the stipulated minimum distance rule should be removed,” he said.

Dr D’Cruz said, “After increasing tax burden on cigarettes, its consumption has gone down. Tax serves as a major deterrent, and therefore, we hope the government will increase the tax on it.”

Countries like France and South Africa have decreased tobacco consumption in one decade for which the US took four decades, just by increasing the taxation, the doctors said.