Eastern India clouds smoking good news

India's overall population of tobacco smokers is set to shrink by nearly 12 per cent during the decade ending 2025, but sharp population increases might lead to higher numbers of smokers in some states like Bengal and Bihar, a study has suggested.

By G.S. Mudur
  • Published 5.10.17
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New Delhi, Oct. 4: India's overall population of tobacco smokers is set to shrink by nearly 12 per cent during the decade ending 2025, but sharp population increases might lead to higher numbers of smokers in some states like Bengal and Bihar, a study has suggested.

The study by the International Institute of Population Sciences (IIPS), Mumbai, has estimated that the number of smokers in the country will fall from about 344 million in 2015 to 327 million by 2020 and 303 million by 2025, in line with trends from recent observations.

The National Family Health Survey of 2015-16 had detected declines in tobacco use in Bihar, Bengal, Haryana, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and some other states. An independent global assessment earlier this year documented a 3 per cent drop in smoking across India between 2005 and 2015.

Public health experts attribute the trend to the tighter tobacco rules the government has pushed over the past decade, from the ban on smoking in public places and the pictorial warnings on cigarette packs to the anti-tobacco messages in cinemas and on TV.

As for the slight increases in the numbers of smokers in some states, the scientists have suggested the trend probably owes to the pace of decline being outstripped by that of population rise in these states.

"A fall in the rate of tobacco smoking may not result in a fall in the actual numbers of smokers in some states," Murali Dhar, associate professor at the IIPS who led the study, told The Telegraph.

"We see an overall decline; the pace of decline is encouraging; the rise in numbers of smokers in states where they increase is not very high; but we need stronger anti-tobacco campaigns in some states."

Dhar and research scholar Jang Bahadur Prasad used the government's yearly National Sample Survey Office to analyse tobacco consumption patterns and predict future trends taking into account the anticipated population growth figures. Their findings were published in the Journal of Cancer Policy.

Their study has predicted a fall in the numbers of tobacco smokers in Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.

"The declines in some of these states are large and compensate for the increases in other states and contribute to an all-India reduction in smoking," Prasad said.

The population of smokeless tobacco users in the country is likely to fall by about six per cent, from 256 million in 2015 to 240 million by 2025, the study indicates.

The proportion of tobacco smokers has been found to be higher among people less educated and members of the Scheduled Tribes and the Scheduled Castes. "The more educated people are, the less likely they are to smoke," Dhar said.

"Such associations may have implications for tobacco control programmes. It might be useful to define target populations such as the less educated and concentrate on awareness campaigns about the hazards of tobacco."