Today is the World No Tobacco Day (WNTD). It is observed every year on May 31st. World Health Organisation started observing WNTD from 1987 and it is promoted globally to create awareness about the perils of tobacco abuse and to encourage people to give up using tobacco.
To commomorate the day, I moderated two panel discussions in New Delhi on the harmful effects of tobacco and how can one kick the habit for good. The panelists were all eminent doctors from Max Healthcare. These included Dr. Sandeep Buddhiraja, who is the Director of Internal Medicine practice at Max Hospitals, Dr. Samir Parikh, who is a well-known psychiatrist and also heads the Mental Health institute at Max Healthcare, Dr. IS Virdi, who is the director of Cardiothoracic Surgery at Max Hospitals, Dr. Harit Chaturvedi, who is a Onco Surgeon and the Director of Onco Surgery at Max and Dr. Anupama Hooda, who heads the medical oncology practice at Max. We had a packed house, a very interactive audience and some very interesting discussion.
I have known Dr. Buddhiraja for many years. He is a founding member at Max Healthcare, we worked together for almost 5 years, when I handled the Marketing function at Max. He continues to be my physician and has on numerous occasions treated many members of my family. In all these years I have known him to be a quiet, sincere and thorough professional, somebody whom you can implicitly trust. Today, I discovered another facet of Dr. Buddhiraja, that of a fiery crusader against tobacco abuse. Sandeep, had come prepared with all the facts, which pointed to a huge burden of disease, that is caused by tobacco abuse. He spoke with great passion, while talking about the harmful effects of tobacco. He is clearly much distressed about the increased use of tobacco in its myriad forms, cigarettes, gutkhas, chewing tobacco, pan masala, snuff etc., which is being impudently hawked on our streets. ”On one end of a cigarette is fire and ash and on the other a moron”, is how Sandeep succinctly put it.
Dr. Virdi, made a simple point saying that you can trace almost any lifestyle disease today to tobacco. Be it heart disease, peripheral vascular disease, a stroke and oral and lung cancers, tuberculosis of the chest, all of them are linked to tobacco. This hit home much closer, and I wondered aloud about my father’s illnesses in his almost 60 years as a smoker. He has had tuberculosis twice, a stroke last year and is currently battling with an oral cancer. So much for a puff!!!
Dr. Chaturvedi and Dr. Hooda had a field day, with oral, lung and other cancers having a clear association with tobacco. They too are passionate doctors and see enough and more cancer victims every day, who would be healthy, if only they had stayed away from tobacco. One can feel their pain and if I may say anger at young people not realizing the grave danger of abusing tobacco, till they reach the office of an oncologist. Dr. Chaturvedi, wondered how is it that once someone is diagnosed with oral cancer, he gives up smoking without missing a beat. My father kicked a 60-year-old habit, the day we told him about his cancer, incidentally diagnosed by Dr. Chaturvedi himself. He wondered that giving up tobacco can not be all that hard.
Dr. Samir Parikh is one of those irrepressible live wires, who have a view on almost everything. Being a psychiatrist and that too one of the most well-known in Delhi, Dr. Parikh counsels and works with lots of people struggling with substance abuse including tobacco abuse. Dr. Parikh and Dr. Buddhiraja talked about how and why one starts with tobacco. Peer pressure, cultural shibboleths including smoking being ”cool”, and myths like ”I can quit anytime”, came up as the most prominent reasons for most people lighting up. Samir and Sandeep, both were emphatic in their pronouncement that tobacco abuse is not merely a habit but a disease. They cited ICD classifications on nicotine abuse and gave medical reasons for nicotine addiction and elaborated on the treatment that can help one kick the disease. They run a tobacco cessation clinic at Max Healthcare and work with smokers, who are keen to quit, but find it hard to get rid of the problem.
My colleague Saurabh Avasthi, who smoked 30 cigarettes a day and then gave up one fine day in October last year also spoke about how he started and how steadily tobacco caught him in its vise like grip and how one day, he just decided that enough was enough. He said that he symbolically buried cigarette sticks and then just never lit up again. The first ten days were hard, when the pull of nicotine, was at its worst and he would count his smoke free days. Over a period of time, he realized that the urge no longer existed and now he says that the stench of tobacco nauseate him.
In the final analysis we concluded that there is no running away from the fact that even one cigarette per day is really one too many. In over 150 people, who attended today’s panel discussion, even if one decides to give up tobacco as a result of today’s session, I would reckon, we would have achieved a lot.