Smokeless tobacco as lethal as cigarettes, bidis, say health experts

KOTA (RAJASTHAN): Vijay Tiwari, 56, a leading gutkha manufacturer, began chewing a lethal mixture of tobacco, betel nut, and palm nut at 12 during tasting sessions at his factory. Eight years ago, life came to a standstill when he was diagnosed with oral cancer. Without batting an eyelid, he packed up his business, based in Kannauj in Uttar Pradesh, despite annual turnover running into crores. "At 48, my life came to a standstill when medical test reports revealed that I had oral cancer," Tiwari, who underwent a surgery in 2011 to remove the cancer, told PTI over the phone while sharing the details of his battle with the disease in which abnormal cells divide uncontrollably and destroy body tissue. "I started chewing gutka at 12 during the tasting sessions in the factory. I didn't know when it became a habit and when cancer got into my system... Never in my life had I dreamt that I would be affected by cancer," he added. While, Tiwari emerged triumphant in his battle against the disease, he has to live with the guilt of ruining innumerable lives over the years with his gutkha. "When I was diagnosed (with cancer), I started regretting the harm that I had done to the society. If we can save our children from falling prey to this menace, our future generations will be healthy. I wish tobacco never existed," Tiwari said, adding that he seeks penance for his actions. Tiwari survived cancer but there are many who don't. According to experts, 2,739 people die everyday in India due to cancer caused by tobacco, despite the rising awareness on the crucial issue. On World No Tobacco Day (WNTD), observed every year on May 31, doctors say the general perception among Indians that smokeless or chewing tobacco causes less harm than cigarettes and bidis has to be shattered. WNTD this year embodies the theme 'Tobacco and Heart Disease', highlighting the link between tobacco and cardiovascular diseases, including stroke, which together are the world's leading causes of death. "It is commonly known that smoking increases the risk of heart disease but the fact is that smokeless forms of tobacco are equally harmful. Tobacco consumption, in any form, does not spare any body part from its harmful effects," Amit Goyal, from the department of otorhinolaryngology at All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Jodhpur said. "Even smokeless tobacco causes similar ill effects. Apart from causing direct damage to the vessels of our body, it significantly increases the mortality rate following a heart attack in people consuming smokeless tobacco," he added. According to Pawan Singhal, ENT surgeon at SMS Hospital, Jaipur and state patron of Voice of tobacco victims (VOTV), smoking tobacco causes exposure to a lethal mixture of more than 7,000 toxic chemicals, including at least 70 known carcinogens that can damage nearly every organ system in the human body. "Tobacco use causes cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cardiovascular disease, and respiratory disease. Newly identified risks from smoking include renal failure, intestinal ischemia, and hypertensive heart disease," he said. In fact, the government's health expenditure is more than the revenue and employment generated by all forms of tobacco sale and manufacturing, experts said.