One common reason for consultation seen in hospitals these days, is problems associated with tobacco addiction. What is really striking is how strong the lure of cigarettes is to these individuals. Their stories are unique, and make you rethink what it takes to fight this raging addiction. One such story is that of a farmer and his son. The patient himself had bronchogenic cancer — a very severe form of lung cancer that had spread to his liver and abdomen. His 20-year-old son had started smoking a week after his father was diagnosed with the cancer, claiming that he needed to smoke to relieve the stress of dealing with his father’s illness. A father who knew what was killing him but refused to stop smoking, and a son who knew what could potentially kill him but did not hesitate to start smoking.
In the search for the connection between the ‘sick man’, the ‘frail man’ and smoking, the clinical team realised that his father and uncles smoked and all his three older brothers smoked. He thought he was just copying his role models now. His mother didn’t want him to smoke, and that made it even more attractive to him. He argued that women do not feel stress as much as “us men do” after a heavy day’s labour; they are more relaxed and hence don’t have to smoke. It’s not their strength, they are “lucky” and smoking is a necessity that he will indulge to keep himself “mentally and physically fit” to work for the livelihood for the family. This makes you wonder whether we can try a new approach to the addiction problem. Maybe we should go in search of the connection between the ‘lucky woman’, the ‘relaxed woman’ and smoking. Why people smoke has been well explained over the years by biological and psychological mechanisms, maybe it’s time we started looking at why some people don’t smoke? Ninety per cent of women in India do not smoke because it is a cultural taboo. Having a close family member and a parent who doesn’t smoke or has successfully quit makes it less likely that the individual will take up the same habit. Common myths seen in rural regions include, tobacco can relieve toothache, constipation, stomach acidity and that having ‘paan’ after food helps digestion. Using education as a tool to debunk these myths can help create a new generation of non-smokers.
According to WHO there are approximately 120 million smokers in India which amounts to 12% of the world’s smokers. Approximately 900,000 people die every year in the country due to smoking as of 2009. In 2015, the number of those smoking tobacco rose to 108 million, an increase of 36%, between 1998 and 2015. Every year, on 31 May, WHO marks World No Tobacco Day, highlighting the health risks associated with tobacco use, and advocating for effective policies to reduce its consumption.
Dr Suhas Chandran is a final year MD Psychiatry resident in the Department of Psychiatry at JSS Hospital, Mysore. He has treated and worked closely with several teenagers with addiction problems. He believes prevention is the best form of treatment and tries to increase awareness among teenagers about mental health disorders.