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Most Popular Drugs in India: Tobacco (part 1)

September 15, 2012

In my quest to discover the most popular drug in India, I stumbled across many many illicit and legal drugs, and variations of those drugs. But as I searched, it became clear that three drugs outdid the rest.

Tobacco was amongst the leaders–and according to my research, comes in third place.

Choices Are Reality

Indian man smoking a cigarette and wearing a blue turbanHave you ever wondered what makes something legal or illegal? popular or unpopular? trendy or just "uncool"? The answer is people.

We all live as the result of another's choices. This carries over into every area of life… including drugs and even addiction. The way people choose to deal with certain substances create or prevent problems.

The way the Indian people have chosen to deal with tobacco creates a problem for our country. And now we have to clean up a mess… that isn't getting cleaned up.

What is Tobacco?

Portuguese merchants filled our ports 400 years ago, onboard their ships: tobacco… and lots of it. We didn't hesitate to purchase the unique and chewable substance, and tobacco trade quickly boomed in India.

Tobacco is a green leafy plant, that grows in warmer climates. The leaf is picked, dried and ground up. Tobacco grounds are used in chewing tobacco, cigarettes, bidis and more.

Nicotine represents just one of more than 4,000 different chemicals in tobacco, but it is this chemical that makes the plant so addictive. Once in the bloodstream, nicotine triggers the brain to want more and more.

How has Tobacco affected India?

Indian women praying with convictionTobacco in India is most often found inside of India's take on the cigarette, the bidis (also called beedis, beedus, beedies and biri). [ref][/ref] Traditionally smoked by men, and created by women, bidis consists of shredded tobacco rolled into a tendu leaf and secured together with a colorful string. [ref][/ref]The effects of bidis smoking on our country has been dangerously huge, and it's getting worse.

Chewing tobacco, cigarettes and pipes demonstrate other ways tobacco is consumed. Gutkha, one brand of chewing tobacco, says on the label that it "contains no tobacco." Instead attractive colors, and flavors like chocolate and mint draw in customers. Gutkha are sold commercially on street corners across India. Children and teens eat up to 15 packets a day, they sell for around half a rupee.[ref][/ref]

According to the times of India[ref/][/ref], tobacco is a prominent risk factor for six of the eight leading causes of death. Nearly 40% of non-communicable diseases like cancer, cardiovascular diseases and lung disorders are a result of tobacco.

What are the immediate dangers of Tobacco?

Mostly brought on by the nicotine within tobacco, the plant causes a number of health problems:

  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Falling heart rate and blood pressure
  • Fatigue, drowsiness, and insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Increased hunger and caloric intake
  • Increased desire for the taste of sweets
  • Tobacco cravings

Tobacco has a number of long term dangers as well. As mentioned above, 40% of non-communicable disease are a direct result of tobacco use. These diseases include: cancer, lung diseases, and throat cancer.

What needs to be done about Tobacco in India?

Because of the obvious threat that tobacco poses to our country (and to our bodies) the Union health ministry has written to all states asking them to either "levy or increase VAT on all tobacco products."[ref][/ref]

Due to the greater expense, such an increase would result in a significant decrease in tobacco consumption.

But tobacco will always be a part of our country’s fabric, because of this our country needs professional de-addiction centres to combat the addiction problem. Raul Luther, the director of HopeTrust, said it this way:

"(in order to overcome the drug and alcohol problem in india) the government must regulate guidelines to encourage more rehabs that meet basic professional and ethical standards."[ref][/ref]

Read Part Two of our series where we discuss the effects Heroin on India.

Helpful Tobacco Article: Tobacco Use in India, An Evil With Many Faces