Tobacco prevalence among youth alarming: WHO award winner

May 31st, 2008 - 2:10 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Anbumani Ramadoss

Mumbai, May 31 (IANS) Nearly 40 percent of the new cases admitted to Tata Memorial Cancer Hospital (TMCH) here are directly related to either chewing or smoking tobacco, said oncologist Surendra Shastri who is this year’s recipient for World Health Organisation’s special award for contribution to the control of tobacco consumption. This works out to nearly 16,000 new cancer patients in this category of the 40,000 admitted to the TMCH annually, Shastri, head of department of preventive oncology, told IANS.

Shastri, 50, is recipient of the award that recognises individuals or organisations in each of the six WHO regions for their accomplishments in the area of tobacco control.

He said that the chances of those actually recovering from cancer depends on early detection of tobacco-related cancers.

Citing the alarming instance of tobacco use prevalence among youngsters, Shastri said that a 2003 survey by the WHO among Mumbai schoolchildren in the 13-16 age group revealed that 16 percent of them were using tobacco, mainly chewing varieties.

“They were inspired by advertisements of film stars and cricketers. Stars smoke on the screen and also off-screen, while cricketers’ attire bear tobacco companies’ logos. The youngsters, who are easily influenced by these factors, take to tobacco thinking it is a macho habit, but they don’t realise the long-term implications,” he said.

Oncologist Shastri has a long list of achievements in the field of tobacco control. He designed and set up the first WHO-supported Tobacco Cessation Clinic Study in India in 2002 at the TMCH. The WHO later adopted this model for all its other centres in India.

Trained through a WHO fellowship in the US, he worked as the co-principal investigator for the Salivary Cotinine Study in collaboration with the Bloomberg School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins, US.

In his 25 years in the field of public health in India, for the past 11 years Shastri has been devoted to cancer control programmes and strategies that focus on prevention, screening and early detection of cervix and breast cancer among women and tobacco-related cancers among youth, men and women.

Apart from chairing several national and international meetings, he has several medical and scientific publications to his credit. He is the editor and principal author of the Evidence Based Medicine Series book “Guidelines for Tobacco Control in India” released this February by Peter Boyle, director, International Agency for Research on Cancer, Lyon, France.

His proposal to the Bloomberg Global Initiative for launching a “Smoke Free Mumbai Campaign” has generated great interest and has been selected for funding.

He developed simple but cost effective techniques for screening the three most commonly occurring cancers in India - oral cancer, breast cancer and cervix cancer - and bagged the American Cancer Society’s “International Achievement Award” for his outstanding leadership and contribution to cancer control worldwide in 2006.

Under the aegis of TMCH, he has organised tobacco awareness programmes across Mumbai and rural areas. His railway station mass cancer awareness programmes have benefited millions of commuters in Mumbai.

Apart from cancer awareness programmes for school and college students all over Maharashtra, he has organised awareness and cessation programmes for special target groups like taxi and autorickshaw drivers, railways and road public transport employees, police personnel, street children, women in remand homes and prisoners.

Currently, Shastri is spearheading the Smoke Free Mumbai Campaign along with the public health department of the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai, as a prelude to the 14th World Conference on Tobacco or Health to be held in Mumbai in February 2009.

Apart from Shastri, another Indian health activist and freelance writer Bobby Ramakant has been conferred the award this year. The winner last year was Health and Family Welfare Minister Anbumani Ramadoss.

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