As per the estimates of WHO (and the FDA of the US) 1.3 billion people (among the 7.9 billion across the world) who smoke, and 80% of them live in low and middle- income countries. Smoking is thus an epidemic and a great public health threat, killing over eight million people around the year. Over seven million of these people die due to direct tobacco use, and 1.2 million non-smokers who are exposed to second-hand smoke. And, as per the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, traditional cigarette smokers are 30% to 40% more likely than non-smokers to develop Type 2 diabetes.
A recent article by Dr. Smiljanic Stasha points out that 1) smoking causes over seven million deaths every year, 2) 5.6 million young Americans might die because of smoking 3) Second hand smoking causes 1.2 million deaths worldwide 4) Smoking is one of the world’s leading causes of impoverishment, and 5) In 2015, 7 out of 10 smokers (68%) reported that they wanted to quit completely. And a recent issue of Nature Medicine points out that after the WHO adopted the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in 2003, it has been included as a Global Development Target in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (SD). If all the 155 signatory countries adopt smoking bans, health warnings, advertising bans and raise cigarette costs, this sustainable development is indeed possible.
The Indian Scenario
India has graduated from a low-income country into a developed country, and is estimated to have 120 million smokers (out of a population of 138 crores), or about 9% of Indian people. A material called Cannabis was prevalent in India and neighbouring countries. Cannabis is a plant product that was (and still is) known by the local names marijuana, charas, hashish, ganja, and bhang. The user feels ‘high’ upon consuming (smoking) it. The active principle in Cannabis is a psychoactive molecule called tetrahydrocannabinol, which is responsible for its psychoactive and intoxicating effects. Even today, during the annual Holi festival, people in India smoke ganja or bhang, to feel “high”.
Turning to tobacco
Turning to tobacco, its origin, use as a medicinal, ceremonial and intoxicant are extensively described by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research’s (ICAR) Central Tobacco Research Institute at Rajahmundry, Andhra Pradesh. The tobacco plant appears to have been cultivated in the Peruvian/Ecuadorean Andes in South America. The Spanish word for these intoxicating plants was ‘Tobacco’.
It appears that the Portuguese explorer Christopher Columbus, during his voyage to the Americas found the natives would sniff powdered these dry tobacco leaves through their noses and enjoyed it. In order to do so, they would use a hollow forked cane. Columbus did so too, enjoyed it and carried it over to Europe.
The ‘pipe’ used by the Europeans for enjoying tobacco appears to have its origin from the forked cane of the Red Indians. It was Columbus who introduced tobacco to Europe, and their colonies in India and South Asia. The Portuguese introduced tobacco cultivation in the north western districts of Gujarat, and the British colonials did the same in U. P., Bihar and Bengal.
The Imperial Agricultural Research Institute was established in 1903, and began research on the botanical and genetic studies of tobacco. In effect, then, tobacco plant and its intoxicating effects were not known to India until it was brought and cultivated by the westerners.
The active principle in tobacco is the molecule nicotine. It is named after Jean Nicot, who was a French Ambassador in Portugal. He sent tobacco seeds from Brazil to Paris in 1560. Nicotine was isolated from tobacco plants in 1858 by W. H. Posselt and K. L. Reimann of Germany, who believed it to be a poison, and that it is highly addictive unless it is used in slow-release form. (Is this why filter cigarettes are used- to bring the release slower?)
Louis Melsens described its chemical empirical formula in 1843, and its molecular structure was described by Adolf Pinner and Richard Wolffenstein in 1893. And it was first synthesized by Auguste Pictet and Crepieux in 1904. Recent research has also shown that regular smokers are prone to Type 2 diabetes.
Ban on tobacco products
India has about 12 crores of people who smoke. This needs to be drastically reduced, in light of public health. The Indian Ministry of Health is set to prohibit the sale of cigarettes. India has become a party to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control on February 27, 2005.
In accordance with this Framework and SD Goals, our Health Ministry has completely banned smoking in many public places and workplaces such as in healthcare, educational and government facilities, and in public transport. These are welcome moves and we the public must cooperate with them.
- Smoking is thus an epidemic and a great public health threat, killing over eight million people around the year.
- Over seven million of these people die due to direct tobacco use, and 1.2 million non-smokers who are exposed to second-hand smoke.
- India has graduated from a low-income country into a developed country, and is estimated to have 120 million smokers (out of a population of 138 crores), or about 9% of Indian people.