A 27-year-old patient from Tata Memorial Hospital has become the face of the new anti-tobacco campaign by the union health ministry. The mass-media drive, which was launched on Thursday, has been named after Sunita Tomar, who hails from rural Madhya Pradesh.
Tomar, who underwent an oral cancer surgery, shot for a 30-second advertisement that has been translated into 17 languages and will run for five weeks nationally on all government and private TV and radio channels under the National Tobacco Control Program. The video will also be screened in cinemas and theatres.
According to Dr Pankaj Chaturvedi from Tata Hospital who operated on her, Tomar shares her experience in the video and warns people about the devastating health harms of using smokeless gutkha and pan masalas.
"The patients we treat are a constant reminder that tobacco is deadly in both cigarette and smokeless forms. We need to do more to raise awareness of this fact. What is particularly distressing is that people have been misled by the tobacco industry to believe that smokeless tobacco can play a role in dental health," he said.
Dr Chaturvedi said they are confident that powerful campaigns such as Sunita can have a huge impact on raising awareness of the real harms of smokeless tobacco use and help to build support for a much-needed ban on smokeless tobacco products.
"Tomar came to us last year in a bit advance stage of mouth cancer. She started taking gutkha when she was 22-year-old. She is right now free of cancer but oral cancer has 50 per cent chances of recurrence. Seeing her condition, her husband who works as a driver, quit tobacco," said Dr Chaturvedi.
When the World Lung Foundation (WLF) approached her for an interview, Dr Chaturvedi said, she readily agreed to share her experience. "Tomar's experience demonstrates that there is a real need for this campaign as many people aren't aware of the real dangers of smokeless tobacco and never think they might develop oral cancer as a result of their habit," said Dr Nandita Murukutla, country director of WLF. The organization is providing technical assistance to the union health ministry for this campaign.
She added, "Tobacco does not discriminate. It can destroy the health and happiness of anyone. We are sure that people across India will relate to Sunita's story and realize it could happen to them or someone they love, and applaud her courage in sharing her story to help others."
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