1.4 million cancer cases were recorded in India in 2022
NEW DELHI, Feb. 13, 2024 /PRNewswire/ — As India finds itself in the midst of an ominous rise in cancer incidence, this World Cancer Day, experts from the Global Sustainability Alliance (GSA) discussed how modifiable risk factors like tobacco can be controlled to reduce the rising burden of tobacco induced non-communicable diseases (NCDs). A recent report by WHO has suggested that new cancer cases are likely to rise to at least 35 million in 2050, a 77 per cent rise over the cases diagnosed in 2022. In India, an estimated 1.4 million cancer cases were recorded in the same year, while one in nine citizens could develop cancer in their lifetime. Tobacco-related cancers accounted for 27% of the country’s cancer burden in 2020, according to the Indian Council of Medical Research.
While WHO applauds the county’s tobacco control polices, India remains the second largest consumer & producer of tobacco. The number of smokers as well as smoking related diseases seem to be stagnant, which sheds light into the fact that the tobacco control polices under WHO have not been successful for India. The country needs to find a solution on its own & develop a strategy to reduce the number of cancer patients owing to tobacco consumption. WHO ratifies the above numbers, but their tobacco control policies are inhibitive of one of the solutions that might help this cause – harm reduction.
Sharing his thoughts on how harm reduction can help India reduce the cancer burden, Dr Bharat Gopal, ‘Director, Pulmonology, Delhi Heart & Lung Institute clarified, “Cancer is a serious concern for our population, especially with Tobacco use as a leading cause, which is avoidable. There is no safe way to use tobacco, however a major risk of cancer comes from combustion of tobacco or tobacco smoke. Most toxic substances, including carcinogenic agents, are released due to combustion. If we can somehow remove combustion from the process, it would reduce harm & help save lives.”
WHO’s European Code Against Cancer claims use of alternatives does not involve burning of tobacco & inhalation of tobacco smoke as against cigarette smoking. Introducing appropriate regulations for such solutions will minimize any potential risks from them.
Sweden, Japan & UK are some of the countries that have bettered their public health by adopting tobacco harm reduction policies to reduce disease rates, cancer being one. The smoking rate in Sweden witnessed a fall from 15% to a mere 5.6% in the last 15 years, taking the country close to the ‘smoke-free’ tag & registering a 41% lower incidence of cancer as compared to EU. Similarly, the Japanese smoking rate reduced drastically between 2016 & 2019. Almost three in every ten Japanese smokers stopped smoking cigarettes. Following the lead of these success stories, UK introduced a program to help one million smokers quit with the help of harm reduction solutions. A recent research from Queen Mary University of London interestingly found that use of alternatives during pregnancy helped expecting mothers quit smoking cigarettes ‘without posing any detectable risks to pregnancy. Following Sweden’s lead, in 2016 Norway decided to lift the ban on the sale of alternatives containing nicotine & these changes will take effect in 2024.
Echoing the urgent need for harm reduction Professor R Zimlichman, Director of the Brunner Institute for Cardiovascular Research at the Sackler Faculty of Medicine, Tel Aviv University, Israel, said, “We know stopping smoking is ideal to stop cancer, but the reality is that millions struggle to quit. Harm reduction offers a pragmatic & potentially life-saving alternative. Embracing harm reduction strategies, such as switching to nicotine alternatives, has led to a remarkable decline in mortality rates & improved public health outcomes. The world needs standardized harm reduction solutions chosen by governments for their safety & efficacy. Delay in implementing harm reduction measures costs millions of lives worldwide.”
World Cancer Day serves as a reminder of the collective effort needed to combat cancer, with a particular focus on tobacco-related cancers. Emphasizing the role of harm reduction solutions is an integral part of this effort, providing individuals with alternatives to traditional tobacco & promoting a healthier future for all.
About Global Sustainability Alliance
Global Sustainability Alliance is one of the first major cohorts that focuses on developing global solutions to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Its mission is to curate a truly global platform of changemakers committed to achieving sustainability.