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Smoking rates in India falling, especially amongst the youth

India has seen a reduction of 81 lakh (8.1 million) people smoking in the 2016 to 2017 period compared to figures from 2010 says the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS).

A breakdown of the survey indicates that this decline in smoking trends may be a generational trend. Overall the reduction in smoking over the seven year period was six percent, though this decline was not evenly dispersed across age groups.

Over the seven year period since 2010, there has been a comparative reduction of 33 percent in tobacco use among 15 to 24 year olds, according to the survey. In the age group of 15 to 17 years, this decline was even more pronounced, with a comparative reduction of 54 percent. The percentage of those in this age group who smoked in 2010 was 9.6 percent; in 2017 this has fallen to 4.4 percent.

The numbers show a trend that could see tobacco users potentially fall further in the coming years. The correlation shown is that the younger a person is, the more likely they are to stop smoking. This trend coincides with an already reduced percentage of smokers in younger groups compared to the average for all ages, currently 4.4 percent in the 15 to 17 group compared to 28.6 percent.

The fall in the usage of tobacco has been attributed — at least in part — to the government’s adherence to an 85 percent pictorial warning placed on the packaging of all tobacco products. Not only have the visual warnings cut down the number of people taking up the habit, but also inspired many to quit, or attempt to quit smoking.

Improved awareness of the health impacts of smoking through the pictorial warnings have therefore been proven to play a large role in the reduction in smoking rates, in particular among younger age groups.

Lung cancer has long been associated with tobacco use; it is at this point a well documented phenomenon. Tobacco use from an early age is an even bigger concern as it presents additional complications if smoked during young age or puberty. Lung capacity can be permanently reduced due to damaged growth. Issues with faster heart rates may also be present.

Tobacco could have far more long term implications, affecting not only the individual that smokes, but also their children. An article featured on Hyderus covers the issue of epigenetic inheritance:

“In more recent years science has uncovered a potentially more long term implications of smoking. Epigenetics — the study of the way environmental factors affect gene expression through chemical regulation of DNA structure — has revealed that smoking causes permanent changes to gene expression, even after a person stops smoking.

While it was already known that smoking during pregnancy could cause health issues with the child, transgenerational inheritance (the concept that epigenetic changes to DNA can be inherited) suggests that any epigenetic changes accumulated before the pregnancy could be passed on to the child.”

The decline in rates of smoking in India — especially the trend that this decline is more pronounced in younger age groups — is incredibly positive. India is currently struggling with increasing rates of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as heart and lung conditions. To reduce a factor that contributes to these NCDs is a step in the right direction towards preventing the conditions, rather than managing the symptoms.

India’s tobacco farmers — or their industrial sponsors — have noticed. A slick campaign now adorns three wheelers and billboards, proclaiming, “protect our livelihood.” The issue, as the WHO points out, is a complex web of subsidies and government policies that still favour tobacco.

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