Wednesday, April 6, 2011

How do you solve a problem like tobacco?

SmokeImage by Ferran. via Flickr
The Indian Supreme Court is expected to announce a ban on smokeless tobacco products on April 13.  A formidable coalition of the Ministry of Family and Health Welfare, the Public Health Foundation India and the World Health Organization met for a two day national consultation and drew up recommendations to ensure the success of the ban.

Look. We all watched Russel Crowe play real life tobacco industry whistle-blower Jeffrey Wigand in The Insider.  The debate and deception is over.  We know smoking is not only injurious to health; it is highly addictive and unlike other "lifestyle" diseases, it adversely affects families and co-workers in close proximity to the smoker as well.  Experts estimate smoking may have killed more than 600,000 non smokers in one year, causing one in 100 deaths, according to a WHO study published in Lancet last year.  That's on top of the 5 million deaths per annum worldwide, projected to rise to a death rate of one in six adults per annum by 2030.

So do we ban and criminalize tobacco like marijuana and other illegal drugs?

  • If not, why not?  Marijuana, cocaine and whatever else the kids are doing these days never killed anyone through second hand smoke.  If you're going to send drug dealers to jail, why not the man who sold your teenager his first fag? 
  • If yes, why don't you criminalize alcohol too?  According to the WHO, alcohol abuse is one of the leading causes of death and disability worldwide.  Excessive alcohol consumption is responsible for 4 per cent of deaths and disability worldwide, nearly as much as tobacco and five times as much as illicit drugs.

Confession:  I missed The Insider.  I accept my fair share of the blame for the commercial loss of $29.7 million to Disney and droopy morale for making under-appreciated high quality thoughtful cinema based on real events, cheering on truth telling.  However, I did see the Christopher Buckley novel inspired political satire, Thank You For Smoking.  That might explain why I am in favor of drug rehabilitation programs, government regulation and social experimentation with prevention tactics to find the most effective ways to help people eschew harmful substances like alcohol, cigarettes and drugs for life from a young age.  I'm kidding, of course.  It's a correlation, not a causation.  I believed in personal responsibility and freedom of choice before I ever heard of Jason Reitman.

As a casual non-smoking observer, here is my partial list of suggestions off the top of my head:

  1. Governments should impose punitively high taxes on all tobacco related products
  2. Regulators should continue the search for more effective health warning labels on product packaging, with particular emphasis on appropriate illustrations for low-information smokers in developing countries
  3. Regulators should require the global tobacco industry, controlled by a few American, British and Japanese corporations, to fund public service health campaigns and ban direct and indirect product promotions activities
  4. Regulators should ban indoor smoking in private and public places
  5. Parents, schools and non-profits should work together to teach children personal responsibility and educate them on myriad health risks associated with smoking
  6. Researchers should continue to test success of various methods, including paid incentives
  7. Researchers, international aid agencies and farmers should work together to find economically feasible crop alternatives  
  8. Media and popular celebrities should continue to advocate against the ills of smoking - after all, they make up the group of elite 20k users on Twitter everybody reads, especially those impressionable kids.

What do you smokers think we should do?  


Vinay Bavdekar said...

Successful people like Sachin Tendulkar, Amitabh Bachchan, etc. do not smoke at all. Bachchan doesn't even drink alcohol. Perhaps these people can be used to deliver the message.

Vinay Bavdekar said...

Highly successful people like Sachin Tendulkar, Amitabh Bachchan, etc. do not smoke. Bachchan doesn't even touch alcohol. These people should be taken into the fold to fight against the vice smoking and drinking.

PunditCommentator said...

The power of persuasion via celebrity is useful for the feeble minded.

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