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Living life on the edge

The theme for World No Tobacco Day observed recently was ‘Protecting youth from industry manipulation and preventing them from tobacco and nicotine use’. NT NETWORK gets upfront with some young smokers and those who’ve quit

DANUSKA DA GAMA | NT NETWORK

As the world battles COVID-19, smokers are at huge risk of developing complications and being carriers of the deadly virus. Killing over eight million people a year, the use of tobacco is a major risk factor for non communicable diseases like cardiovascular disease, cancer, respiratory disease, and diabetes which in turn puts people with these conditions at higher risk for developing severe illnesses like COVID-19.

In Goa, district level awareness on the ill effects of tobacco and guidance for those who want to quit is carried out. Police and mamlatdars also work to enforce Tobacco Control Act (COTPA).But despite sensitising people on the hazards of smoking tobacco, smokeless tobacco, and second hand smoking, the use of tobacco has seen a surge among the young population.

The first smoke

And indeed each of these smokers has a back story to how it all began. A 24-year-old business student from Margao for instance tells us that he started smoking at the age of 18. “It all began on a trip to Hampi with my cousins and a few friends,” he says, adding that smoking has been pleasantly satisfying. “The first cigarette nicotine rush before going to the washroom in the morning is what most smokers will associate with,” he adds.

Another 19-year-old law student from North Goa began at the age of 14. “It made me feel happy and I wasn’t the only one smoking in my friend circle at that time. It was trendy and continues to be,” he says, attributing it to style, advertisements, etc. Being small in stature, he admits, that smoking also makes him feel like a man and not be taken for a ride because of his size, weight, and personality. And he has no plans of quitting, despite his mother asking him to do so. “My mom thinks smoking is bad but my dad has given me permission to smoke,” he says.

Sales and marketing manager Bosco De Silva from Cansa Thivim has vivid memories of his first encounter with the cigarette. “I was 22. After graduation I felt I should be an active participant in society by holding a cigarette and puffing in style. It made me feel a macho man,” he says.

The heavy chain smoker back then, started with 10 cigarettes and slowly graduated to five packets a day. “I was a non-stop puffing chimney and not even the cough of smokers stopped me from puffing away to glory. I tried all the tobacco brands to enhance my social status attaining the highest degree of ‘I am a man’,” he says. De Silva finally quit after 31 years in 2005.

Girls too, today don’t shy away from smoking even though they often have to deal with more comments from people. For some, it started with the boy gang in college, or following a fight, or due to stress. A working professional from Panaji however recounts that she smoked her first cigarette in the second year in college to know what the hype was about. “Then once I got used to inhaling it without coughing it became a habit to smoke with peers,” she says, adding that it was a way to be able to fit into groups and not be the odd one out.

Another lady in her late thirties has a similar story from her college days when she and her two best friends decided to smoke to see what the boys in the class loved so much. Recalling their first try, she states that they didn’t want people to know about it. “My friend brought a matchbox from the prayer room and we went to a shop near our college only,” she recalls. She then pretended to be on call with a male sir making it to seem as if the professor had asked them to buy three cigarettes. “We didn’t even know what variants were there or how to hold a cigarette,” she says, adding that they went to a lonely lane near college and tried it.

What about quitting then?

Of course some have since quit cigarettes. Others have set timeline to quit in the future. But still others have no intention of doing so. The Margao students tells us that it’s not that he doesn’t want to quit smoking. He is well aware of how smoking can damage his lungs. In fact he is pretty scared about how his teeth could be damaged His parents too often advise him to stop and he makes it a point now not to smoke in front of them.

“I could stop, and in-fact anyone can but it just does not come from within,” he says, explaining how satisfying the nicotine rush is and adding that it is something he might not be able to live without.

The 19-year-old tells us that there are several who believe that it reduces stress. “In fact, nicotine somehow does make one feel good,” he says, adding that he is not too bothered by the gory pictures on the cigarette packets warning people to avoid smoking. “There is nothing to fear if you know your limits. I have planned to quit smoking at the age of 21. Till then I want to enjoy my life and I don’t think it is wrong. It is a choice I am making, “he says.

A 36-year-old IT professional who began smoking almost two decades ago, says that with time he became aware of the ill effects smoking was having on his health and energy levels. He even understood the psychological effects it had on his personality. He was also scared of “dying of cancer”. Making up his mind to quit was the first step in his gradual success.

De Silva has an interesting story to tell us about how he quit smoking. “In 2005 my wife and daughter took me up to three storied building and I found that couldn’t climb without feeling breathless. I hadn’t realised my lungs were in such bad shape,” he recalls. A respiratory doctor later performed a lung test which showed 65 per cent damage.

However, he still couldn’t stop and one day as he was driving to work he heard a familiar voice on FM. “My wife was being interviewed on a FM station. She was advising students on the ill effects of smoking and she publicly stated that her oldest student was her husband (that’s me) who cherished being a non-stop chimney every minute of the day. That was it…” he says.

The FM station and a pharma company then gifted De Silva five packets of smokers’ patches. His progress to quit smoking was religiously monitored by his wife and daughter and he went on to successfully overcome the smoker’s label.

The professional from Panaji who never bothered about who said what about her smoking and was pretty open about it, states that she quit cigarettes due to COVID and the lockdown. “I quit because I didn’t want to get out of the house during lockdown to search for cigarettes,” she says.

According to WHO (World Health Organisation), over 40 million young people between the ages of 13-15 have started using tobacco. Each year the tobacco industry invests an estimated USD nine billion in advertising to hook in youngsters.

But De Silva who started smoking in his twenties and gave it up in his fifties, says that when he sees youngsters smoke now he feels sad as their only companion will be death. “Keep away from girlfriends/boyfriends/ friends who love to see you smoke. They aren’t vitamin sticks and with time you will not be able to climb the staircase as your breathing capacity will reduce and stamina will drop. Instead spend money on eating healthy,” he says.

The IT professional says that it’s the advertisements on television and scenes in movies that glamorise smoking. “No one actually smokes inside a restaurant or on a plane like they show in the movies. It’s a lie,” he says, adding that gullible youngsters get fooled and end up losing out on their health due to such gimmicks by companies who are only bothered of sales and profits.

He says that though he is a very social person, because of his smoking habit he would socially withdraw as it makes one conscious of smelling of smoke. “It created havoc in my life as it caused gingivitis of the gums, a lot of teeth problems, reduced my energy, and made me very irritable,” he says.

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