India is the largest producer of tobacco and the second largest consumer of tobacco products. India is home to 12.1 million women smokers, second only to United Sates in this segment. And the rising numbers of female smokers in India is a troubling factor owing to the increasing cases of infertility and cancer. Due to the changing lifestyle, more and more women are taking up smoking in the Indian scenario. Most of the time it is peer pressure, which then transforms into a mechanism to cope with stress. The younger generation of female smokers take up this habit to challenge norms. Smoking is perceived to be a symbol of women liberalization and torches to freedom.
According to the study published in the British Medical Journal, cigarette smoking among Indian men decreased to 23 percent in 2012 from 33.8 percent in 1980, while it increased among women from 3 percent to 3.3 percent in the same time frame. In absolute terms, the number of Indian women smokers had doubled in that time frame.
According to the survey by Global Adult Tobacco (GATS) in 2013, it has been estimated that the figures for smoking rates among Indian men have gone down, but there has been a proportionate increase in the number of women smokers globally. This survey was published in the fifth edition of Tobacco Atlas and revealed in the 16th World Conference on Tobacco or Health. The Atlas also details what it calls ‘tobacco epidemic’, harmful effects of tobacco on society, health, poverty, environment, and also lists down the actions being taken to counter those measures and progress being made to control tobacco.
Based on the factsheets and figures of 2013, the number of adult men smokers in India has been pegged at 23.2 percent. This figure was higher at 24.3 percent in 2009-2010. Conversely, the survey estimated that about 2.9 percent of Indian women were smokers. There has been a steep rise in these figures since then and the figure now stands at 3.2 percent. About 25.9 percent of Indian adult population were using smokeless tobacco.
Although the central government has imposed a ban on ‘gutkha’ or smokeless tobacco and also taken initiatives to control tobacco production and consumption, nevertheless there seems to a discrepancy in figures due to the lack of authentic data. Moreover, the increase of women smokers is a global issue. Countries like Japan have reflected data where the rate of women smokers has stayed constant over the years. Lung cancer is now one of the common causes of deaths in women. The number of deaths caused by lung cancer has surpassed deaths that are caused by breast cancer. Also the number of young girls succumbing to smoking has exponentially risen in many countries.
According to World Health Organization (WHO), India will reap enormous dividends in health and prosperity owing to the number of initiatives that they have taken towards controlling tobacco and banning it in the country. Initiatives such as ban on tobacco advertising, tobacco warning labels on product packaging, high tobacco excise taxes, and enforcing a smoke-free law will fetch India enormous benefits to the health of the population by large. Advertisements against tobacco usage like those shown in movie theatre are one of the best ways to educate people and invoke awareness among them.