New Delhi: India continues to report the highest prevalence of oral cancers globally with 75,000 to 80,000 new cases of such cancers reported every year.
Most of this type of cancer can be attributed to the use of chewing tobacco considering more Indians chew tobacco than smoke it.
As against 26 percent chewing tobacco users, India has 14 percent smoking tobacco users globally, indicating that prevention of the use of chewing tobacco remains one of the single biggest challenges for Ministry of Health`s ambitious programme to reduce the incidence of non-communicable diseases.
A recent report prepared by experts of National Institute of Health and Family Welfare (NIHFW) to study the harmful effects of gutka specified clearly that India alone accounted for 86 per cent of the total oral cancer figure across the world.
More disturbing is the finding that chewing tobacco and gutkha contribute to 90 per cent of oral cancer cases in the country, with the Health Ministry now banking on the successful implementation of the 2011 notification which banned the use of tobacco in gutkha by describing gutkha as a food product and saying that food products cannot contain nicotine.
Food Safety Commissioners across states have, however, reported the fact that chewing tobacco industry is trying to tweak the law by selling gutkha and tobacco in separate packs.
"That is a reality and a new challenge we are facing," a state food safety commissioner said on the eve of World Cancer Day observed by WHO.
In India, tobacco alone is responsible for 1.5 lakh cancers, 4.2 million heart diseases, 3.7 million lung diseases every year.
The country is the oral cancer capital of the world because of rampant habit of tobacco chewing.
The Health Ministry`s own statistics show that over 65 percent of cancers in India can be attributed to tobacco use.
Another set of data suggests of the annual 5.6 million cancer deaths in India, a third can be blamed on tobacco use with India suffering from one of the highest rates of oral cancer in the world as much as twice the global average.
Worldwide too, cancer is the leading cause of death accounting for 7.6 million deaths in 2008.
In 2008, an estimated 1.13 million deaths occurred due to cancers in the WHO`s South-East Asia Region (SEAR) of which India is a part.
Lung and oral cancers are the most common cancers among men in South-East Asia Region while cervical and breast cancers are leading cancers among women.
The positive part is that there is evidence that at least one third of all cancer cases are preventable, the reason why WHO gives cancer prevention high priority.
It is estimated that tobacco is the single most avoidable risk factor for cancer mortality as it causes approximately 22 per cent cancer deaths per year globally.
The SEAR Region is home to 250 million smokers and an equal number of smokeless tobacco users.
Back in India, studies have shown that the government spends approximately Rs 300 billion annually in both public and private spending on treatment of tobacco-related illnesses accounting for roughly one fourth of all health spending.
As many as 2,500 persons die every day due to tobacco-related diseases in India.