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Why so much smoke?

The statutory warning on cigarette packs has not proved to be much of a deterrent to smokers, and addicts are now as young 10 years old

They say history is the best teacher, but statutory warnings are only as good as the fear they can incite — and the big bold letters spelling imminent death on our cigarette boxes, have done little to dissuade the smoking population.

As with most unhealthy habits, multiple ways of smoking and consuming tobacco have been devised, and even some attempts at corrective measures have been made. Cigarettes remain the most popular way of consuming tobacco, and the nicotine in it is what gets one addicted. Having said that, cigars, pipes and hookahs are also widely popular. Not to mention the habit of chewing tobacco instead of burning, which releases the juices from the tobacco that get absorbed into the bloodstream.

Over the years, more and more children, as young as 10 years old, have developed a smoking addiction in India. The Tobacco Atlas — a report that measures the tobacco epidemic across the globe —came out with their latest report earlier this month, which stated that well over 6 lakh children in India, aged between 10-14 years, are regular smokers.

Of the many attempting to quit smoking, few make it to the finish line. While a majority of the people are aware of the health hazards posed by smoking, there just isn’t enough incentive to kick the habit. There are some however, who beat the odds and come out on top with a healthier pair of lungs and a few hundreds richer.

Ajay (name changed), 40 years old, quit smoking 24 years ago, and besides a few moments of nostalgia, never feels the urge to light up again. For him, the process was as simple as deciding to not go out and buy another pack when he ran out of cigarettes one night. His wife had never been a smoker, which meant he had to smoke outside the house. One night, after he had smoked the last one in the pack, he washed away his ashtray, and never bought another smoke. “The first two months were the most difficult,” he says, “And even though I fear that if I try to smoke casually, I might end up getting addicted again, I don’t really miss it anymore.”

Taran (name changed), a 23-year-old, on the other hand has recently quit, admitting that feeling so dependent on something so destructive was more of a hazard for him than the tobacco itself. “I think one of the mistakes we make is to associate smoking with other routine activities, that just makes it worse,” he observes. Attaching the act of smoking with another regular activity, like smoking with tea, before hitting the gym, or before going to work, makes smoking something of a routine, which is a risky prospect.

As a solution to cigarette smoking, e-cigarettes, more popularly known as vapes, were introduced in the market. A report commissioned by UK’s Department of Health suggests that vaping is considered 95% safer than cigarettes. While cigarettes require the tobacco to burn, releasing all the carcinogenic chemicals in them, vapes do not involve any burning. Instead of inhaling the smoke, like with cigarettes, one inhales the vapour, removing a good amount of the harmful chemicals released in regular cigarettes. And while vapes are expensive, they are more of a long-term investment, and one of the many ways to slowly wean oneself off of tobacco entirely.

The long and short of the preventive measures taken in India includes making it mandatory for 85% of the packaging to show a warning, banning advertisements, and banning smoking in healthcare and educational institutions. Moreover, tobacco companies are now finding more inventive ways, by avoiding the bans, to urge the population to continue smoking.

The intentions behind smoking can be many and varied. Some start smoking with the intention of losing weight, others consider themselves ‘social smokers’, while it helps some with handling stress. But for some, it becomes a matter of habit — an incessant need to dangle a smoke from the fingertips and take endless drags until it’s burned to the filter. A habit they cannot seem to kick. But an action only turns into a practise if you do it enough times, and quitting that practice can just as easily be the next action we take.