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India’s bold strides toward creating a smoke-free nation



World No-Tobacco Day

The quick-paced lifestyle that is becoming increasingly commonplace across India has taken its toll in many ways, but perhaps most strikingly in the manner in which tobacco consumption has surged in recent years. But there have been signs of this trend being reversed, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). By their estimates, India has made remarkable strides in curbing tobacco consumption, putting the nation firmly on track to achieve its ambitious goal of a 30% reduction in tobacco use prevalence by 2025. This commendable target, set in accordance with the WHO’s global voluntary targets, underscores the country’s unwavering commitment to safeguarding public health and promoting a smoke-free society.

Kicking the habit

According to the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS), conducted by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, the overall prevalence of tobacco use among adults (aged 15 and above) in India has decreased from 34.6% in 2009-10 to 28.6% in 2016-17. This remarkable 6% decline within a span of seven years is a testament to the efficacy of India’s comprehensive tobacco control policies and initiatives.

What’s more, the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) data reveals an even more encouraging trend, with tobacco use prevalence among adults dropping from 38.4% in 2005-06 to 24.0% in 2019-21.  There have been a multitude of factors driving this decline.

Robust Legislative Framework

The Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act (COTPA), enacted in 2003, has proven to be a powerful tool in regulating tobacco products and their consumption. Measures such as banning smoking in public places, restricting tobacco advertising and sponsorship, and mandating prominent health warnings on tobacco product packaging have played a pivotal role in raising awareness and discouraging tobacco use.

Increased Taxation

According to the WHO, a 10% increase in the price of tobacco products can lead to a 4-5% decrease in consumption, and this is a lesson the Indian government has paid heed to. The Indian government has consistently increased taxes on tobacco products, making them less affordable and reducing their consumption, especially among the youth and low-income populations.

National Tobacco Control Programmes

Initiatives like the National Tobacco Control Programme (NTCP) and the Tobacco Free India campaign have been instrumental in raising public awareness, promoting cessation services, and enhancing enforcement of tobacco control laws.

Multi-sectoral Collaboration

India’s tobacco control efforts have involved collaboration among various stakeholders, including government agencies, civil society organizations, and international partners, ensuring a comprehensive and coordinated approach.

India’s progress, by the numbers

The WHO’s latest report, “Global Investment Case for Tobacco Cessation,” released in 2022, commends India’s remarkable progress in tobacco control. The report cites India as a leading example of a country that has successfully implemented comprehensive tobacco control measures, including taxation, smoke-free policies, and awareness campaigns.

According to the report, India’s tobacco taxation policies have been particularly effective, with the country ranking among the highest in the WHO South-East Asia Region in terms of the affordability of cigarettes. The report also highlights India’s efforts in providing cessation services, including the establishment of quit-line services and the integration of tobacco cessation interventions into primary healthcare.

Overcoming challenges

Despite the remarkable progress made over decades, India still faces some hurdles to overcome in its tussle with tobacco. The prevalence of smokeless tobacco products, such as khaini and gutkha, remains a significant concern, particularly in rural areas and among vulnerable populations. And while Telangana has very recently placed prohibitions on tobacco and products statewide. To sustain the momentum and achieve the 2025 target, India must continue to strengthen its tobacco control policies and address the following areas:

  • Stricter enforcement of existing laws, particularly in rural and remote areas.
  • Expanding cessation services and promoting innovative approaches to encourage quitting.
  • Addressing the socio-economic determinants of tobacco use through targeted interventions.
  • Enhancing public awareness campaigns, especially among youth and vulnerable populations.
  • Continuous monitoring and evaluation of tobacco control policies to ensure their effectiveness.

The road ahead

India’s commitment to reducing tobacco use prevalence by 30% by 2025 is an ambitious, yet achievable goal. With sustained efforts, robust policies, and multi stakeholder collaboration, the nation can pave the way for a healthier and smoke-free future for its citizens. The progress made thus far serves as a beacon of hope, spurring others across the globe to follow suit and prioritise a healthier way of living.