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Engaging healthcare providers in tobacco control on 'Safe Saturday'

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Bobby Ramakant
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Engaging healthcare providers in tobacco control on 'Safe Saturday'

The healthcare providers, particularly the young nursing and medical students can potentially strengthen tobacco control in all healthcare facilities. This was the key thought expressed at the 'Safe Saturday' seminar held in Chhatrapati Shahuji Maharaj Medical University (CSMMU), organized by its Tobacco Cessation Centre. People tend to indulge more in risk-taking behaviour on a Saturday and health-seeking behaviour is minimal - that is why the Surgeons of CSMMU have taken an initiative to raise awareness and target different audiences for a 'safe saturday.'

The importance of integrating tobacco cessation with the existing healthcare services was emphasized by Professor (Dr) Rama Kant, Head of the Department of Surgery at CSMMU and a World Health Organization (WHO) Director General's Awardee (2005). He firmly believes that we can use the existing vast healthcare network of our country in tobacco control, simply by better management and utilization of the existing healthcare staff, at no extra cost. Involvement of health care workers is a major tool in curbing the tobacco epidemic.

Studies have shown that even a brief counseling by health professionals on dangers of smoking and the importance of quitting goes a long way in reducing tobacco consumption. This method is cost effective too and has been successfully tried in some parts of the state of Uttar Pradesh, informed Prof (Dr) Rama Kant. He felt that it was essential for all the primary and community health centres in the rural areas to join hands with the district hospitals/medical institutes in the urban areas to be part of this tobacco control activity.

The health professionals need to have adequate knowledge and a proper attitude in order to put the plan into practice. Proper training (by way of lectures and audio visual programmes) of the doctors, paramedics, nurses and all others involved in patient care is very essential. This should be coupled with a proper attitude. Lack of time is often cited as an excuse. But "even a cursory remark by the doctor like – 'do you take tobacco?' may have a tremendous cessation outcome" says Dr Vinod Jain, Associate Professor, Department of Surgery at CSMMU. A study has revealed that smoking cessation interventions during physician visits were associated with increased patient satisfaction. Patients are bound to feel that the doctor cares for them. Even one minute spent with the patient, results in an abstinence rate of 11% which increases to 17.5% if contact time is 3 minutes.

"Tobacco kills 5.4 million people around the world each year. Tobacco is a risk factor in six of the eight leading causes of death worldwide" said Alejandra Ellison Barney, Wellesley College, USA. The death toll is projected to rise to eight million a year by 2030, with 80 percent of those deaths occurring in developing countries, added Alejandra. If current trends are not reversed, tobacco will claim one billion lives this century, said she.

The healthcare professionals were also briefed on the coming World No Tobacco Day (WNTD) on 31 May 2009. This year the theme for WNTD 2009 is "Tobacco Health Warnings." Tobacco health warnings appear on packs of cigarettes and are among the strongest defences against the global epidemic of tobacco. WHO particularly approves of tobacco health warnings that contain both pictures and words because they are the most effective at convincing people to quit. Such pictorial warnings appear in more than a dozen countries.

The healthcare providers in CSMMU will campaign to encourage their government to adopt tobacco health warnings that meet all the criteria for maximal effectiveness, including that they cover more than half of the pack, appear on both the front and back of the pack and contain pictures. In India, the pictorial health warnings on all tobacco products are slated to come into effect from 30 May 2009.

- Bobby Ramakant
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Bobby Ramakant is a development journalist and has been writing on development issues since 1991. Health is one of the key focus areas he writes on. He is also a World Health Organization (WHO)'s WNTD awardee for 2008
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