This question was asked by a young boy of 9th grade while I was doing an advocacy workshop in a school in Dhaka. I smiled and answered “that is a million dollar question and it has a billion dollar answer”.
In Bangladesh, one fifth of the adult population smokers, with around half of the adult male being smokers. Fortunately female doesn’t smoke as vigorously like men, however the rate is not negligible (1.5%). However, in case of smokeless tobacco use females are more prone to use it than men. When we look at the age segregation of the tobacco use initiation the overall mean age smokers are around 18 years. By education level, across all levels of education almost half of the adult population starts smoking when they are in their secondary education level.
So it is quite clear that like many other countries in the world, the tobacco industry is aiming to impress Bangladeshi youths by their so called “smart” products. Youth places now a day tries to manage a “Sisha Lounge” which is use of aroma tobacco through water pipe. Sometimes I have hard times with my younger cousins to stop them going there and hard tries make me unpopular among them. But that didn’t stop me rather I tried a new project from my workplace to go to schools, colleges and universities and conduct interactive workshops among the students to make them aware that “tobacco kills”.
This is how I faced this question. I was having a tough time on the workshop which took place on World No Tobacco Day. It’s always hard to make people listen and if a gang of school boys are waiting for you in a hot summer day just before the break time it’s even tougher! After several vain efforts I started the presentation. First few slides went okay but finally I grabbed the attention. They started to listen and most importantly ask questions! The first two questions were regarding some data and I answered them easily but when it came to this one I took a while before answering! Thought of how to handle them because the school was a public one and teachers may not like the fact that the government is being fooled by the tobacco industry. I told them that most useful and deceiving tact that the tobacco industry uses with the policy makers that they make them understand tobacco is cash crop. It brings lot of money and it gives lot of revenues. What they deceive is the health effect of tobacco and the losses the farmers are facing by growing tobacco in their land. What industry deceives is the fact that tobacco is a “Crushing Crop” which crushes everything and makes profit only to the industry!
Some of the readers must think that, maybe that was the trickiest question I faced! Trust me it wasn’t the final blow. The blow came when one 6th grader asked “what do we do when one of our teachers is using chewing tobacco in the class”?
Now tell me how to answer this! By the way the teacher is question was sitting at the workshop and I could smell the tobacco while talking about anti tobacco!