The Outlook article says that cigarette consumption is 100 billion sticks per year, and more than 5.4 million people are killed worldwide by tobacco. ITC was making 70% of its profit from tobacco. People discussed when they started smoking, how difficult it is to give up the habit and why they gave it up.
I remember it very clearly. It was Dec 4, 1966 when I smoked my first cigarette. The occasion was my class picnic. I had just passed SSC with not too bad marks [that’s my opinion, my parents felt otherwise] and felt that I had then entered the man’s world, having left behind the kid’s world at the school. On that day I smoked half a packet of cigarettes. My parents soon went on their annual vacation leaving behind our servant and me at home which provided a great opportunity to smoke cigars which my father had kept in a cupboard and forgotten about it.
I contracted tuberculosis at a very preliminary stage six years later. The smoking stopped. I was scared of it. Three years later I had taken up a job in a company where everybody smoked, it was the ‘in thing’ I would say. Not to be left behind, I resumed smoking, touched three packets or 30 cigarettes a day, notwithstanding the history of tuberculosis. When I got engaged to Sulabha, my wife, she asked me ‘Do you smoke?’ I said ‘Yes, I do’. I thought she will ask me to stop smoking but she did not except for an occasional plea. She must have considered me incorrigible. I never smoked in front of my father, although I guess he knew that I smoked.
I finally gave up about ten years ago. The reason was not economic as some claim [when the cigarette prices go up], it was also not anything to do with me health, and my health was fine by grace of God. The reason was…… I do not know what label to give. I started thinking for some reason that I am soon going to be afflicted with throat cancer! It made me feel that there was a noose inside my neck!! I do not know why I started feeling this, but the feeling became so strong that I stopped enjoying my cigarette. So my smoking stopped. I did not substitute it with eating peanuts or any other habit; I know some people try it. It started with a bang but went away without my realising it.
Several years passed, my son grew up and joined an engineering college. I once asked him, ‘I hear that many students smoke charas or some such stuff. What would be the percentage of students who have tried it?’ ‘Must be about forty percent, Dad’ was the answer which stunned me. I never knew things had changed so drastically.
I think the situation is very different now, girls seem to be smoking more than boys, certainly in the corporate world, and the craze among boys is for drinking. The substance abuse is more common today than ever and I feel that I am a lucky father whose children did not pick up that habit. I always thought that substance abuse was a recent phenomenon till I visited Muktangan in Pune and learnt how it was started.
I am proud of my children for they did not pick up smoking habit, I am proud of our Government [may they give us more of such occasions] which declared the smoking ban, and I am proud of Muktangan which has done splendid work in the field of deaddiction. I am ever grateful to God for not giving me health problems despite my ailment record.