‘Smoking for any amount of time is always dangerous’

Each year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) observes 31st May as ‘World No Tobacco Day’ to emphasize the lethal health risks associated with tobacco.

To fight against the global tobacco epidemic, this year, the movement will stress on defying the tobacco industry’s bold and increasingly dangerous efforts to dilute the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC).

In an exclusive interview with Salome Phelamei of Zeenews.com, Dr T Gangadhara Goud, MBBS, MD, Community Medicine (Public Health /P.S.M.), Professor and Head, Dept of Community Medicine, Vijayanagara Institute of Medical Sciences, Cantonment, Bellary, Karnataka, spoke on diverse health issues resulting from tobacco consumption.

Dr Gangadhara is also working as External Monitor for IPPI (Intensive Pulse Polio Immunization Programme) (WHO) since 1995, and as Coordinator for immunization coverage (UNICEF).

He was selected for WHO International Fellowship for the year 2010-11 in Public Health Informatics at CDC, Atlanta, USA. Apart from various field experiences, he had also worked as MCI inspector for recognition of PG degree in Community Medicine.

He has been awarded “Rashtriya Gaurav Award” for the year 2010-11 by the India International Friendship Society in recognition of his services in the field of Public Health, “Glory of India 2011, Gold medal” by International Institute of Success Awareness, and “Best citizen award 2011” by International Publishing House.

What is tobacco?

Tobacco is a name for any plant of the genus Nicotiana of the Solanaceae family (nightshade family) and for the product manufactured from the leaf and used in cigars and cigarettes, snuff, and pipe and chewing tobacco.

What are the substances found in tobacco?

2000- 4000 chemicals, 250- highly toxic chemicals and >50carcinogens.

Carbon monoxide
Tar: Carcinogenic
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons: Carcinogenic
Nitrosaminenornicotine(NNN): Carcinogenic
Benzopyrene: Carcinogenic
Nitrogen dioxide

Types of tobacco products:

Smoke form Smokeless form
  • Bidi
  • Cigar
  • Cigerettes
  • Hukka
  • Pipes
  • Chewing
  • Gutka
  • Quid
  • Snuff

Which tobacco product has the most nicotine?


What does nicotine do to our health? And who is likely to become addicted to cigarette smoking?

Nicotine is an alkaloid present in tobacco, binds to the receptors present in the brain and leads to the release of catecholamines which causes -
Increase in heart rate
Increase in BP
Increase in cardiac contractility and output

People who start cigarette smoking at young age are likely to become addicted to smoking.

Effects of smoking while pregnant:

Effects of smoking while pregnant are-
Premature rupture of membranes
Abruptio placenta
Placenta previa
Increased risk of spontaneous abortion
Preterm delivery
Increased risk of perinatal mortality
Small for gestational age
Increased risk of infant respiratory distress syndrome
Developmental delay

Does smoking affect fertility?

Yes, smoking is detrimental to your health, so it can severely affect your fertility:

Male impotence-

The tar content of the tobacco damages the tunica intima of the blood vessels leading to plaque formation and then the plaque obstructs the lumen of blood vessels.

Nicotine is a vasoconstrictor. If it constricts coronary arteries that leads to heart attacks; similarly if it constricts penile arteries that leads to erectile dysfunction, leading to male impotence.

Female infertility

Tobacco is harmful to ovaries. Nicotine and other harmful chemicals in tobacco reduce the production of estrogen, a harmone that regulates folliculogenesis and ovulation. It also interferes with embryo transport, endometrial receptivity, endometrial angiogenesis, and uterine blood flow.

What is the prevalence of tobacco consumption and how many people die from smoking in the world each year?

Prevalence of tobacco use among adolescents, by sex and WHO region:

WHO Region Current smokers Currently used tobacco products other than cigarettes
  Total % Boys % Girls % Total % Boys % Girls %
African region 08.0 13.5 5.2 11.3 11.9 10.5
American regions 14.3 13.5 15.0 9.5 12.3 6.8
Eastern Mediterranean Region 4.9 7.3 2.0 12.0 14.3 9.1
European Region 19.2 21.0 17.4 10.0 12.1 7.5
South East Asian Region 5.9 9.5 2.0 10.1 12.5 7.1
Western Pacific Region 13.4 18.5 8.4 6.6 7.2 6.1

Nearly 5 million deaths occurred each year in the world because of smoking.

If I smoke for a while and then I quit, is there any danger?

Yes, smoking for any amount of time is always dangerous.

How dangerous is second hand smoke/ environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) to the human health?

Second hand smoke is composed of side stream smoke (the smoke released from the burning end of a cigarette) and exhaled mainstream smoke (the smoke exhaled by the smoker). Because side stream smoke is generated at lower temperatures and under different conditions than mainstream smoke, it contains higher concentrations of many of the toxins found in inhaled cigarette smoke. Second hand smoke contains at least 250 toxic chemicals.

The contents of second hand smoke/environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) are same as that of first hand active smoke and so the effects are same as that of first hand active smoking. It mainly increases the risk of lung cancer.

How does tobacco use affect the country`s economy?

Direct medical costs of treating tobacco related diseases in India amounted to $907 million for smoked tobacco and $285 million for smokeless tobacco. The indirect morbidity costs of tobacco use, which include the cost of caregivers and value of work loss due to illness, amounted to $398 million for smoked tobacco and $104 million for smokeless tobacco. The total economic cost of tobacco use amounted to $1.7 billion.

Tuberculosis accounted for 18% of tobacco-related costs ($311 million) in India. Of the total cost of tobacco, 88% was attributed to men. The cost of tobacco use was many times more than the expenditure on tobacco control by the Government of India and about 16% more than the total tax revenue from tobacco. The tobacco-attributable cost of tuberculosis was also three times higher than the expenditure on tuberculosis control in India. The economic costs estimated here do not include the costs of premature mortality from tobacco use, which is known to comprise roughly 50% to 80% of the total economic cost of tobacco in many countries.

Suggest some effective measures/tips to quit smoking

Start your stop smoking plan with START

S = Set a quit date.
T = Tell family, friends, and co-workers that you plan to quit.
A = Anticipate and plan for the challenges you`ll face while quitting.
R = Remove cigarettes and other tobacco products from your home, car, and work.
T = Talk to your doctor about getting help to quit