Amid widespread shock and anguish over misinformed statements on tobacco’s association with cancer, Kerala’s medical community have rebuffed these and have stated that tobacco use indeed causes cancer. Public pronouncements mooted by self-contained interests cannot dispel years of revalidated study and research by scientific and medical community, they say.
Kerala’s medical community have also congratulated the Hon’ble Prime Minister for his timely intervention in keeping up to the commitment of the 15 October 2014 notification requiring tobacco companies to devote 85 per cent of all tobacco product packs including bidis, cigarettes and smokeless to pictorial warnings.
Dr Paul Sebastian, well-known surgical oncologist and Director of Regional Cancer Centre here said, “No less than the World Health Organisation has categorically said that tobacco causes cancer. Independent research conducted by Indian organisations has only strengthened this.”
He points out to the cohort study in Karunagappally taluk started in the late 1980s to study the potential health effects of high background radiation.
“The study that covered 65,829 men aged 30–84 however showed an elevated lung cancer incidence among bidi smokers, strengthening the association of lung cancer risk with bidi smoking,”
“Karunagappally is known for high background radiation from thorium-containing monazite sand and the study set out to explore the lung and other cancer risks increased by exposure to high-level natural radiation, and the synergistic effect between radiation and other factors including bidi smoking. However, our cohort study showed that the relatively high lung cancer incidence in this area is unlikely to be due to high-level natural radiation,”
Dr Sebastian added.
Eminent oncologist and Founder Director of Regional Cancer Centre Padma Shri Dr M Krishnan Nair said, “The Prime Minister’s assurance that the Government will go ahead with 85 per cent pictorial warnings is reassuring. It sends out a clear message that tobacco is indeed to harmful to health and it speaks volumes of the Government’s commitment to reducing tobacco consumption.” Dr Nair also remembered the Prime Minister’s tweet on World No Tobacco Day 2014 about working to “reduce tobacco consumption in India.”
“Baseless statements that tobacco does not cause cancer cannot take away from established facts of science, and collective efforts of the scientific and medical fraternity. Reports of the National Cancer Registry Programme (NCRP) have a dedicated chapter on tobacco related cancers. The 2011 Report shows 45.4 per cent tobacco related cancers among males and 16.8 per cent among females in India,” Dr Nair added.
The Indian Council of Medical Research with a network of cancer registries commenced the NCRP across the country in December 1981 to generate reliable data on the magnitude and patterns of cancer.
Dr. VP Gangadharan, pioneer medical oncologist and HoD of Medical and Paediatric Oncology, Lakeshore Hospital, Kochi said, “Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death and disease and strategies such as large pictorial warnings can save one million precious Indian lives every year. Tobacco snatches away the best years of a user’s life, hampering productivity and social well-being. Pictorial warnings of 85 per cent can go a long way in preventing youngsters, migrants, and illiterates from getting addicted to tobacco products.”
Citing a 2014 report of the Union Ministry of Health & Family Welfare and the World Health Organisation on the economic burden of tobacco use, he added, “Tobacco use not only impairs health of individuals; it also badly affects the health of the economy. The economic burden for four specific diseases including cardiovascular diseases, cancer, tuberculosis, and respiratory disease in Kerala for the year 2011 was Rs 545 crores.”
Twenty-eight-year-old tobacco control crusader Ms Sunita Tomar, who made a public appeal for large pack warnings through the online campaign #LivesBachaoSizeBadhao, succumbed to oral cancer on April 1 – the same day when large-sized pack warnings were to be implemented in India. Sunita has made a dying request to the Prime Minister for 85 per cent pack warnings.
As many as 38,735 persons including doctors, tobacco victims, bidi workers unions, international and national public health experts and youth across the country had appealed to the Union Health Minister to implement 85 per cent pack warnings.