That anti-tobacco advertisement on the 70 mm at one of the posh multiplex contradicted to the very next advertisement which had the tinsel beauty sashaying the renounced tobacco brand. Well for some the next moment was about enjoying the flick, but for me it was not, recalls Shayantani Banerjee, an image consultant who lost her childhood friend because of her smoking habit. Smoking, which stands as one of the major health mess of Indian society and if we go macro and observe, the smoking habit of women in particular, it has raised drastically. The question that needs the attention is whether its jut a habit, attitude or something more that is driving the Indian urban and sub-urban women toward the not-so-cool habit that they call so cool.
Abhishek Nayar, a personality grooming expert says, “it was never so cool, when it comes to smoking. It’s just the perception that we have created through mass media.” Especially when we talk about women, it is more surprising. He further says, “As an expert I feel and have observed that it is more about fitting yourself in the shelf of society which is alcohol and tobacco driven. Surprisingly it’s not just the immature minds that are falling prey of it but at some stage the matured ones too, and that is disturbing.”
Sweta Kapur, a corporate manager, says, “I started smoking when I was in MBA. Before that it was a big thing for me, but when I joined college, it was very common. For me it was never about peer pressure, I wanted to try and once started, I liked it. Today its seven years now and I haven’t faced any health issue. I smoke eight-ten cigarette a day, and haven tried to quit, but do intend to do once I conceive. While Anamika, a 19-year-old BCA student says, “I am an educated girl, but well versed with ill effects of smoking, though it is very common in colleges these days, but I have my own ways of relaxing that ranges between reading and spending time with friends.
Psychologist Manas Shah says, “All it starts with peer pressure in school/college days. Earlier it was restricted to male gender, but with the role of media and cinema it has impacted the opposite gender too. As compared to boys, it is less among girls in teenage, just because of parental supervision which is of higher degree with latter.” Financial freedom brings the devil back in the lifestyle as the girls turn into mature independent working women. Shah who has closely observed the lifestyle of working women adds, “Between 25-45 age, when they are financially independent, whether married/single they take it up as a stress buster. As afterwards it becomes a habit and necessity.” They call it a necessity because they get addicted to it and start considering it as a easy solution to neglect the day today issues of life. Consumption of alcohol or tobacco among women in Indian society is still a taboo. And that’s the reason majority women try to hide this habit form family and spouse, while men are more open about it.
According to Global Adult Tobacco Survey and various other multinational and national surveys, India stands as the third largest producer of tobacco and the second largest consumer of tobacco products worldwide. In this scenario the share of women consumer is drastically increasing not just in urban market but in small pockets too. The only difference is the quality of products. Manas deems, “whatever be the quality, tobacco is harmful and when it comes to women health it has major effects on reproductive system which complicates conceiving cycle of the gender. He further adds, though women quit smoking only when they plan to become mother, but medically the major loss to the body happens before that and causes major complications at the later stage of life. A different study in 2014 further found that 51 percent of cancers in men and 21 percent cancer in women was due to tobacco consumption and that had resulted in major cardiovascular diseases. Shruti Singh, lawyer who lost her sister due to cancer says, “my sister was a single mother and to her smoking was part of life for past 9 years. Today her son is in boarding school and her demise has made me learn the effect of smoking.” She further states that tobacco and smoking in particular not only affects the health of a woman but family at large. And as a lawyer I feel the only way to cure this health mess is to educate and aware the masses.
Although, there are Ngo’s working in this direction, but one question that still needs to be answered is why the government allows the production and consumption of tobacco. The answer lies in the lucrative taxes that the product range showers in the government kitty. Shruti strongly recommends, the only way out to this vicious circle of health mess is for the government to implement anti-tobacco laws more effectively. Till then, it’s time for us to take the call.