Alarm bells are ringing as cases of tobacco-related cancer increase in Mizoram, which happens to be the highest tobacco consumer.
According to authorities, Mizoram has the highest incidence of lung cancer, mostly among the youth.
Tobacco is being used in various forms including cigarettes and "zou zeal", a traditional form of tobacco. Chewing of "sadha" and "run nual", traditional forms of tobacco are also popular, both among children and women.
Tobacco is sold at small kiosks in villages.
Tobacco users say it is hard to part with the addiction despite knowing the flip side. Ramdingliana, a tobacco addict since the age of 10, said: "It sounds really good when they talk about cancer and other diseases caused by tobacco. But the truth is that it is very hard to give up such a bad habit once we are into it".
After knowing the hazards of tobacco use, many young men and women have got themselves enrolled in several de-addiction centres.
The clinics attend to 1400 clients every month, besides creating awareness among people from far-flung areas on tobacco-related diseases.
According to doctors, the endeavour would curb the growing menace of cancer in the State.
Jeemy L.Pautu, an oncologist, said: "Over the years, I have seen a number of cancer patients which include youngsters with lung cancer. And most of them have been smokers. In the urban areas, it is the youth emulating adults and feeling a bit mature when they smoke. The problem is that we generally do not tell our kids not to smoke".
In the tribal Mizo society, consumption of tobacco is rampant among children, who have been introduced to tobacco at a very young age.
With most of the families engaged in farming, the belief that consumption of tobacco cures the field-workers of insect bites has led to the current situation.
According to authorities, every year over 1,000 men and women reach hospitals in fading condition, mostly suffering with lung and tongue cancer.
Jane R.Ralte, Officer on Special Duty (Health)¸said: "In Mizo society, there is not much taboo associated with tobacco use. With time passing and medical societies coming to know more and more about the harmful effects of nicotine and all other substances used in tobacco, the impact is being seen the Mizo society".
Ralte said more awareness campaigns would be launched across the state to deter people from taking up tobacco.
India is the third largest tobacco producer and consumer in the world after China and the US.
India exports only one fourth of its total annual tobacco output, which is nearly 545 million kilograms.
Tobacco victims in India out-number the AIDS victims, as one million of the 250 million tobacco users in the country die every year.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there will be more than ten million deaths a year due to oral cancer in the next thirty years with 70 percent of those occurring in developing countries like India.