A man lights a cigarette along a road in Mumbai, India. Photo: Reuters/Danish Siddiqui
A man lights a cigarette along a road in Mumbai. Photo: Reuters / Danish Siddiqui

Two new research reports on how the world can control the continuing menace of tobacco use are making headlines.

The first was issued last month by the International Commission to Reignite the Fight Against Smoking. The report says that if current trends continue, the number of deaths caused by cigarettes and other harmful forms of tobacco will grow from 100 million in the 20th century to 1 billion in the 21st.

China, India and Indonesia are home to nearly half of all global tobacco users. Tobacco use is substantially more common among men than women but, in a number of countries, this disparity has leveled off or even risen among women while declining among men. Tobacco use is higher among those with lower household incomes, lower socio-economic status and lower levels of education attainment. 

The report says research institutions should quantify the funding mechanisms to implement effective tobacco cessation and harm reduction in lower- and middle-income countries (LMICs).

Medical bodies such as the World Medical Association should be encouraged to re-establish the leadership role of doctors in ending smoking in LMICs. They should determine doctors’ knowledge, personal views and behavior (for example, do they personally smoke) on a periodic basis using digital technologies.

Based on those insights, develop and promote evidence-based programs tailored to medical professionals’ knowledge base and the regions in which they practice to discover what works to end smoking in adults. Support research to design more effective ways of ending smoking by high-risk patients, including those with tuberculosis, heart disease and early-stage chronic lung disease. Advocate for risk-proportionate regulations as a way of making it easier for smokers to quit.

The second report is by AF Development Care (AFDC) in New Delhi, which recommends that the Indian government re-examine its current anti-tobacco strategy.

The World Health Organization adopted the global strategy to accelerate tobacco control 2019-2025 (GS2025) in 2018. But to date, it is unclear to what extent advancements in tobacco control worldwide are potentially attributable to the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), particularly in India.

Even a decade after the FCTC coming into force, its implementation remains relatively low across India, and is unevenly applied. The AFDC report attempts to understand how India has progressed over the years on tobacco control. 

The report says India needs better strategy as nearly 29% of adults consume tobacco in India, the second-highest rate in the world after China, with a catastrophic 1.35 million preventable deaths per year. 

One striking fact from this analysis is that tobacco consumption among women in rural India has gone up. Tobacco use in rural areas has increased among women in all states except Manipur, Meghalaya and Nagaland. 

Both reports call upon countries to take up immediate measures and bring out new strategies, as current approaches look to be falling short.

Sachi Satapathy

Sachi Satapathy is an international development practitioner who has worked on large-scale projects. His interests are in public policy, poverty alleviation and public-private partnerships for development in middle-income and developing countries.