The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Alert on tobacco trail of woe
- Calcutta powers ahead in puff-related ailments

The chief minister may not waste an opportunity to light up, but his government sure was making the right anti-puff noises on the eve of World No Tobacco Day.

'There are daylong meetings on Tuesday with Central health department officials and doctors' bodies, where key decisions will be taken on ways to control tobacco consumption,' said C.R. Maiti, director of medical education.

The possibility of imposing serious curbs on smoking and tobacco consumption in Calcutta would be explored at the meetings. That the city is earning the dubious distinction of being a leader in tobacco-related diseases is a matter of 'grave concern'.

Independent surveys prompted by the Union health ministry and the state government have put Calcutta way ahead of cities like Patna, Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai on this count, with 40 out of every 100 Calcuttans smokers or tobacco consumers.

'The situation is going out of hand with a 15-20 per cent rise in smoking-related diseases in the city in the past few years. Diseases like chronic obstructive pulmonary disorders, lung and oral cancer, and fertility problems have increased manifold. This is a growing cause for concern,' said A.G. Ghoshal, head of department (respiratory medicine), SSKM Hospital.

Every three out of five patients being admitted to Ghoshal's department every day suffer from respiratory diseases directly related to smoking. 'Most of them have a long history of tobacco consumption in one form or the other,' Ghoshal added.

Oncologist Subir Gangopadhyay pointed out how a 'staggering 90 per cent of oral cancer cases in the city' are related to tobacco consumption.

Smoking among teenagers is another scare point. According to state government estimates, this has gone up by 'almost 25 per cent' in the past seven-10 years.

'All smoking-related complications among teenagers has a high chance of developing into lung cancer at a later age. The result might be shocking in another 15-20 years,' warned cancer surgeon Gautam Mukhopadhyay.

Smoking is directly linked to fertility problems. 'In the city, at least 50 per cent of all fertility problems are directly linked to smoking habits. Today, both men and women are suffering the consequences of smoking habits,' says infertility expert Rajiv Agarwal.

Smoking is known to form reactive oxygen species (ROS) in humans, making the sperm weak or reducing the count considerably.

According to modest estimates, at least 15 per cent of the city's population is infertile, requiring artificial reproductive methods.

'We have laid down serious anti-smoking guidelines for newly-married couples who intend to start a family. The guidelines, under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, clearly establish the connection between smoking and poor sperm count and infertility,' Agarwal added.

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