By: Rahul Bharadwaj, India
On May 31st, World No Tobacco Day (WNTD), no one, except people like me, can understand the significance of this day. Until last year I did not even know when WNTD was, let alone its relevance. My life completely changed 4 months earlier when I was diagnosed with advanced mouth cancer that was a direct result of my habit of chewing Gutka pan Masala. Like several of my college friends, I started taking rupee gutka pouches that were sold just outside my college as mouth fresheners. Those days, little did I know that I am buying death and disability in one rupee. By the time the current text warnings came, I was heavily addicted and could not leave it despite threats by my wife and daughter.
I represent many youth in India who are diagnosed with mouth cancer every year and millions who are languishing because of their habit. I have seen death in very close quarters and no one can understand my pain. I had toxic chemotherapy, deforming surgery and painful radiotherapy. Despite all this, I am still not sure if I will live long enough to be here for my daughter’s next birthday. My wife and I haven’t slept for months. Nightmares abound. My daughter still cannot come to terms with her father having deformities and disabilities. My mother’s eyes are still wet and lips are constant praying for my life. Professionally, I am not the same aggressive person because of the reduced stamina and difficulty in speaking. I live in constant fear of the re-occurrence of the disease… the slightest symptoms panic me. All because of Gutka pan Masala!
Now I cannot bear the sight of this killer product being sold every 10 meters especially near the schools. I get very disturbed when I see others, especially teens, chewing it. I am disgusted when I see them being advertised and glamorized. We all know tobacco kills half of its consumers prematurely. We do not want our children and loved ones to use this product. We all know that there is no use whatsoever for tobacco except causing death and disability. Why do we still continue to allow this industry legal status? Is it justifiable to allow killing of one million Indians (mainly young) every year for earning a few thousand crores?