New Delhi: Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad called for a "jihad" against tobacco use after a report released on Tuesday identified India as the world`s second largest consumer of tobacco.
An estimated 274.9 million Indians consume tobacco, the first Global Adult Tobacco Survey said.
Nearly 0.9 million tobacco-related deaths occur in India annually as compared to 5.5 million world wide. India is also the world`s third largest producer of tobacco, the report added.
"A jihad is needed against tobacco to tell that consumption of tobacco is dangerous. The whole nation needs to come together against it," Azad said, after releasing the report here.
"Eight to ten lakh persons die of tobacco related diseases every year and this reflects a higher mortality than the combined deaths resulting from other major diseases, such as tuberculosis, HIV AIDS and malaria," Azad added.
"Three in five (61 percent) tobacco users notice the health warning on tobacco packages," the report said.
Further, the report revealed widespread tobacco use among the youth, with more than 15 percent of youngsters under 15 years of age, and nearly 25 percent of those between 15 to 17 years consuming tobacco. The figure for those in the 18 to 19 age bracket was 19 percent.
The mean age of starting tobacco use was found to be 17.8 years. Surprisingly, while the mean age for boys was 18 years, for girls it was 17 years.
"As a result of stringent tobacco control initiatives by the developed countries, the tobacco industry has shifted its base to the developing country. Countries such as India are being targeted as potential markets," Azad said.
The level of education was found to have little effect on curbing tobacco consumption.
The mean age of tobacco use for those educated below primary level was 17, and for those with secondary education and above was 19.
"Two out of every five (40 percent) tobacco users in the bracket of 20 to 34 years started using tobacco on a daily basis before the age of 18," the report said.
The ban on smoking in public spaces too seemed to have little effect.
The exposure to second-hand smoke in the country is as high as 29 percent.
Nearly 26.1 percent non-smokers were exposed to second-hand smoke at work. At home, the figure was 52.2 percent. The highest exposure was in public transport and restaurants.
Among adults who visited a restaurant, 16.1 percent observed someone smoking in a designated non-smoking area.
In terms of region, the north eastern states have the highest number of tobacco users, with 19.3 percent people using tobacco in one form or the other. Mizoram tops the list with nearly 40 percent users, while Goa is at the bottom with 4.8 percent.
The health minister said that his ministry has tied up with the agriculture ministry to draw a "comprehensive" plan to move tobacco farmers and workers out of the industry and provide them alternative livelihood.
"We must provide alternative livelihoods, as we must encourage farmers cultivating tobacco to change to other cash crops," Azad said.
Minister of state for health Dinesh Trivedi called for clearer pictorial warnings and controlling the practice of chewing tobacco.
The survey was conducted under the supervision of the health ministry by the International Institute for Population Sciences, Mumbai, an autonomous organisation of ministry.
Technical assistance was provided by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and RTI International.
Interviews of 69,296 adults (15 years and above) were conducted, with 33,767 men and 35,529 women. The sample size was of 72,000 households and the survey was carried out in 19 languages.