Smoking in Kollam males higher than Kerala and national averages, says survey

Kollam, June 30 – Police records would have us believe that there are no violations of COTPA – the tobacco control law – in the district but field reports and experts have a different story to tell.  Results of an ongoing cancer survey conducted by Regional Cancer Centre (RCC) and Bhabha Atomic Research Centre in coastal wards of Kollam Corporation show that nearly 37% males smoke tobacco – much higher than the Kerala average of 27.9% and national average of 24.3% for males, as per the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (2009-10).

The 2009-14 cancer survey, which covered 38,808 males above the age of 14, brought out that 30% of males were cigarette smokers, while 12% smoke bidis in Kollam corporation area.  Even though the consumption of traditional pan with betel leaves and arecanut has decreased, 5% of this group was found using chewing tobacco products such as khaini and pan masala. Rural population in areas such as Mayyanad and Boothakulam areas were found to be using chewing tobacco 4% more than urban dwellers.

A study by RCC in Karunagappally taluk of the district during the period 1990-97 showed that 60% of males above 14 years use tobacco. The lung cancer rate among males in Kollam Corporation is also the third highest in India at 23 per 1 lakh, as per Kollam Cancer Registry reports of Indian Council for Medical Research, Government of India.

Dr Paul Sebastian, Director, Regional Cancer Centre who has led the study said, “The results of the current survey give us both cause for hope and worry. While it is gratifying to see that tobacco consumption have declined since our earlier study, we still have a long way to go to curb tobacco use and thereby bring down associated diseases.”

Dr Sebastian, who is also the Vice Chairman of a coalition called Tobacco Free Kerala formed for tobacco control in Kerala added, “The survey leads to the urgent need for coordinated action and greater enforcement of tobacco control legislations in the district as per in other parts of the state.”

Paradoxically, there is not even a single instance of public smoking in Kollam city and rural, as per records made available in the Kerala police website for a sevenmonth period from October 2012 to April 2013. Section 4 of COTPA, 2003 governs action against public smokers. Persons found smoking in public places including bus stops, cinema halls, hotels, restaurants, coffee houses, bars and workplaces are liable to be fined up to Rs 200.

Dr Prathapan CV, Former Director of Health Services and Chairman of Pain & Palliative Care Trust, Kollam said, “Prohibition on public smoking is not strictly enforced in the district, especially in places such as hotels and bars. Even though the incidence of smoking has come down significantly over the past two-three decades thanks to mass awareness programmes, younger generation taking to these products is a cause for worry.”

Citing the case of how ‘kesari dal’ known for its negative health impacts was taken off markets with a strong legislation called Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954, Dr Prathapan calls for a similar legislation to get rid of tobacco products. “Considering that we have more than enough evidence of the health impacts of tobacco use, we need a strong legislation that will stop tobacco cultivation, processing, production, distribution, use and advertisements. The issue of associated livelihoods can be sorted out through discussions at various levels, for which strong political will is needed. The potential health benefits from tobacco ban will only exceed the losses,” he added.

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