Tobacco accounts for about 40 per cent of all cancers in India. About 275 million Indians use tobacco, mainly smokeless. One of every seven tobacco user is a child.
Tobacco-related diseases cost India nearly $5,000 million every year. The cost of tobacco consumption exceeds the total combined revenue and capital expenditure by the government and the States on medical and public health, water supply and sanitation.
On 31 May, the World Anti-Tobacco day, the MGIMS students launched a four-part anti-tobacco initiative in Selu Kate, a village located 14 km south-west of Sevagram .
First, the students explained villagers how smoking harms. They organized a short play which focused on the lives of three individuals who began smoking for three different reasons : emotional stress, peer pressure and imitation of parents or elderly. The smokers in the play developed asthma, lung cancer and self-harm and their promising careers were cut short by smoking.
Second, groups discussed evils of tobacco chewing. Individuals within the groups addicted to tobacco chewing were identified. They shared what made them start, how much they spend a day to buy tobacco and how and why their attempts to quit smoking turned futile. Peer pressure and ‘hype of feeling manly’ emerged as the main reasons for getting hooked to tobacco. On average, a daily wage worker bought tobacco worth Rs 60 every day - a little over a third of what he earned every day.
Third, a medical student played a role of patient enduring an oral cancer. He enacted the sorrows and miseries victims of cancer have to go through. Admittedly there was a bit of deliberate hype in the story but it succeeded in making the audience aware that tobacco in any form can not only kill but also lead to severe pain and suffering.
Finally, the audience learnt how to quit smoking. A medical student took off nicotine from a cigarette and showed the deposits of brown nicotine on the cloths. The audience learnt that letters in the word “START” can help them remember the steps to take to quit smoking : Set a quit date; Tell family, friends, and the people around you that you plan to quit; Anticipate or plan ahead for the tough times you'll face while quitting; Remove cigarettes and other tobacco products from your home, and work and Talk to your doctor about getting help to quit.
A counselor explained, “People have the best luck at quitting if they take medicines (nicotine replacement) to help them quit and work with a counselor. These replacements can reduce craving for cigarettes and reduce the unpleasant symptoms that happen when smokers stop smoking. But the medicines are costly and beyond the reach of most people in the villages.” The audience learnt how doctors and counselors can figure out what triggers smoking and what to do instead; how can they help smokers overcome cravings and how they can figure out what went wrong when a smoker tried to quit.
“If you keep money that you typically spend on tobacco ( Rs 60 a day) aside, and use it as a reward to buy something top on your wishlist, you might save Rs. 21,600 per year!” This number had a telling effect- people could hardly believe that they could save so much every year by resisting the temptation to smoke.
“Even if a single person is freed from the deadly clutches of the tobacco addiction, it will be worth the efforts that the team took, “ said Shiv Joshi (a 2011-batch medical student). The campaign was organized by a bunch of medical students from MGIMS, and was supported by social workers and post graduates from the department of Community Medicine. The students expressed their gratitude to Dr Ashok Mehendale and Dr Subodh Gupta (faculty), Dr Abhijeet and Dr Harshal (residents), and Mr Bhusari (Social Worker) for their cooperation in making the campaign a big success.