Celebrities endorsing tobacco injurious to society, say doctors

 Telangana | Written by : IANS Updated: Wed, May 31, 2023, 01:10 PM

Hyderabad, May 31 (IANS) Doctors on the eve of World No-Tobacco Day have expressed concerns over the endorsement by leading actors like Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan, Ranveer Singh, and Akshay Kumar of brands that also manufacture gutka - a generic name given to smokeless tobacco products - which causes severe harm to the human body through surrogate means.

They lament that even famous former cricketers like Sunil Gavaskar, Virender Sehwag, Kapil Dev and Chris Gayle have been roped in to promote these brands.

Every year May 31 is commemorated as World No-Tobacco Day, and there is an urgent need to enhance awareness of the ill effects of smoking tobacco, chewing tobacco, and even consuming alcohol, especially among youngsters and women.

"Movies and cricket are widely followed in the Indian subcontinent. People of all ages are watching IPL matches, and movies of all languages, thanks to OTT platforms. If any of the movie stars or cricket players promote a product, naturally the impact will be there on adolescents and youth," said Dr Mahesh Gudelli, Consultant - Clinical and Interventional Pulmonologist, KIMS Hospitals.

"Gutka is a type of smokeless tobacco that is made in India and is widely used throughout Asia. It is a mixture of tobacco, crushed areca nut (also called betel nut), spices, and other ingredients. It is used like chewing tobacco and is placed in the mouth, usually between the gum and cheek. Gutka contains nicotine and many harmful, cancer-causing chemicals. Using it can lead to nicotine addiction and can cause cancers of the lip, mouth, tongue, throat, and esophagus. Nearly 4200 chemical constituents have been identified in gutka. The main carcinogens in gutkha are derived from its ingredients including tobacco, areca nut, lime, and catechu. Gutkha (pan masala with tobacco) has been proven to be a carcinogenic agent," the doctor explained.

He strongly recommends the stars not to endorse any of these products even for bulky remunerations. "We request all celebrities to take a step back and limit themselves from promoting such products even if they are promoted as generic brand names."

Commenting on the dangers, Dr G.V. Lakshmi, Consultant Pulmonologist, Amor Hospitals, said, "Cinema and cricket are religions to many in our country, and many superhumans and even gods get created from these two fields. Many people, especially the youth, try to ape the demigod characters from the movies they watch or their cricketing heroes. Glorifying smoking or usage of tobacco products on the silver screen or on the small screen along with a small and insignificant statutory warning in a corner of the screen, is highly deplorable. There are many actors and maybe a few sportsmen too who smoke in their real lives, and fans who follow these stars' personal lives take inspiration from their regular lifestyles too. These celebrities, who are showered with great love from their fans, have some basic responsibilities towards the society which made them superstars; and unfortunately, they seem not to be living up to the expectations."

"Approximately 40 per cent of the total tobacco consumed in India is in smokeless form and gutka is the most important component in this. We have been seeing prominent film actors and now cricketers come together to promote brands which are associated with gutka production. Though the claim is that these celebrities are only promoting flavoured cardamom, the brands' association allegedly remains with harmful tobacco products. Despite a ban in 2012, gutka and other smokeless or chewable tobacco products are illegally marketed and consumed across many states in India. And endorsement of celebrities to brands which provide a recall to harmful tobacco products is highly unfortunate," feels Dr Anusha Kantheti - Consultant Pulmonology, SLG Hospitals.

Dr D.S. Sowjanya, Consultant Pulmonologist, Kamineni Hospitals observed that in the past few decades, due to easy access and unrestrained freedom cigarette smoking and tobacco consumption has been on the rise among the youth. "Though there might be a dip in the overall numbers, the trend is carried on unabated among the youth, especially young and working women. Youth of India must be aware that due to cigarette smoking and tobacco consumption, we might witness a rise in the number of heart disease patients, cancer patients, and even premature mortality, causing a form of healthcare emergency in the country. Tobacco usage among young girls will certainly have the most adverse impact on the future generations of our country due to bad pregnancies."

Adolescents are most vulnerable to initiate use of tobacco. It is an established fact now that many adult smokers would have smoked for the first time ever while still in high school or just after entering college.

The doctors say that it is the duty of society in general and of parents to ensure teenagers do not find inspiration to smoke. When a father or any other elder in a family smokes tobacco, there is a high probability of a youngster from the house taking to smoking for the sake of fun. It is important to deglamorise smoking to the possible extent and ensure that people do not drive the future of society in the wrong direction.