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World No Tobacco Day: How To Help The Underprivileged

World no tobacco day


World No Tobacco Day: How To Help The Underprivileged

Smoking kills, more so the poor and disadvantaged. Here’s how you can help them beat addiction

When was the last time you saw an anti-smoking advertisement that horrifically showed how painfully your life is cut short when you have one puff too many? Or even saw the grotesque and unmissable pictorial warning on a pack of cigarettes? Pretty recently, right? And I bet it got stuck somewhere in your head too. Sadly, it turns out that reality hasn’t fazed a lot of people, because smoking and tobacco use is on the rise globally.

It not only causes scores of premature deaths but also hampers a country’s economy and development. And in a poverty-stricken state like India, things are a lot worse. Why? Because according to the World Health Organization (WHO), “Tobacco use costs national economies enormously through increased health-care costs and decreased productivity. It worsens health inequalities and exacerbates poverty, as the poorest people spend less on essentials such as food, education and health care. Some 80% of premature deaths from tobacco occur in low or middle-income countries, which face increased challenges to achieving their development goals.”

This is exactly why the theme of this year’s World No Tobacco Day is “Tobacco – a threat to development.” While the campaign will propose measures to our government and the public, it doesn’t mean we can’t come up with our own measures. In my opinion, we should help our poor brothers and sisters. For the educated masses are already aware of the perils of smoking, but our poor countrymen are not fully aware. Even if they are, they don’t have the privilege to check into rehab and de-addiction centres so it’s time you and I step in.

Without further ado, let’s take a look at what you can do to help them out:

1. Empower and terrify them with details

Chances are, disadvantaged and/or low-income individuals already know that smoking is not good for them. But do they know the extent of damage it does? Nope! Sample this: according to an oncologist from Apollo Hospital, “35% of the total cancers in India are from the head and neck region as compared to 5-8% in the western world. India accounts for more than one-fourth of the world’s head and neck cancer ratio, hence these cancers are called Indian cancer! No prizes for guessing that the most common reasons for head-neck cancers are tobacco and alcohol. Tobacco includes smokeless tobacco like gutka and paan, as well as smoking tobacco like cigarette and bidi, which are way worse than cigarettes owing to their higher nicotine content.”

Fear (of death, sickness, poverty, etc) is a great motivator to get people to de-addict and make positive changes in their lives. However, this only works if you give them hope of recovery and a better life. So don’t forget to conclude with a positive message that they can not only get through this, they will also be doing a huge favour on themselves and their loved ones.

2. It’s all in the head: teach them psychological tricks to kick the habit

Getting rid of a bad habit by going cold turkey is something most people struggle with. Sometimes, it even increases the addiction instead of reducing it. For most people, switching a bad habit with something else–say a lesser evil or a good habit–is far more effective. You could help them throw down that cigarette or bidi with a nicotine patch (which many of them are not even aware of). These patches are not overtly expensive and will also help reduce their withdrawal symptoms. You could also give them nicotine-based chewing gums and herbal tablets as a way to reduce their number of puffs per day. Psychiatrist Dr Trivedi shares a few tips:
“Tell them to be open and tell their family and friends that they are not going to smoke, and need their help to ensure they stay the course. Also, ask them to write down their triggers for smoking and make sure they discuss them with their doctor or therapist.”

You can also give them this additional advice, as shared by Dr Trivedi, “Find joy in things other than smoking. For eg, taking up a hobby you always wanted to pursue is a great distraction. As with combating any other health problem, have a daily routine; don’t skip meals and eat healthy, and get regular exercise. Good food and ample exercise will give you the mental and physical strength you need to kick the butt. Remember, there will be days when you relapse. It is only natural that you will fail a couple of times. Do not quit when you do. Persist.”

3. If neither of the above work, point them to the nearest de-addiction centre

So you did your best, but it didn’t work. Maybe it’s time to give them expert help instead. There are a number of de-addiction centres that help people recover without charging them a fee. If you can’t find a centre in your area, click here. However, your job isn’t just done here (if you really intend to help). They need someone to be accountable to, you can be that person. Stay in touch with them and keep a tab on their progress; sometimes, all they need is someone who cares.

Tobacco addiction can be hard to get rid of, but is not impossible. If all of us take steps to create awareness and help our poor, they will have a better chance at survival.

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Mahevash Shaikh is the twenty-something author of Busting Clichés. She loves to write, draw and laugh (among other things). You can find her using words and pictures to express herself and redefine the word "normal" at

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