Indians are among the most reluctant in the world to stop smoking. And when they do so, it is after they develop serious diseases.
According to the first nationally representative case control study of smoking and death in India, only 2 per cent of adults quit smoking every year. And almost 90 per cent of them do so after they develop serious diseases.
In striking contrast, in China, where the cessation rate was similar just a decade ago, things seem to have improved considerably since. The number of those who quit smoking in a year now stands close to 10 per cent in that country.
India's eastern neighbour Bangladesh too is better off, with nearly 8per cent of smokers giving up smoking annually.
The Indian scene can look even more disturbing when compared to some western countries. While the quit rate among smokers in UK stands at 40 per cent, in US and Canada it is at 30 per cent each.
In Poland, the cessation rate stands at 25 per cent while Thailand's estimates stand at 15 per cent.
India is home to nearly 12 crore smokers. More than one-third of men and about 5 per cent of women aged 30-69 smoke either cigarettes or bidis (which contain only about a quarter as much tobacco as a cigarette). Smoking already causes 1 lakh female deaths and 6 lakh male deaths a year, between the ages of 30-69.
Lead author of the study, Prof Prabhat Jha of the Centre for Global Health Research (CGHR), Canada, warned any type of tobacco use was bad for health.
Jha said, 'India will see a million tobacco deaths a year from 2010, more than the sum of annual deaths in US, Canada and UK combined.'
India's Health minister A Ramadoss regretted that not many seemed to realize the potential dangers of tobacco use and hence the quit rates were poor in the country..
He told Times of India, 'Indian smokers are just not aware that smoking kills. The younger population too is naive about its ill effects or don't care. Public icons like film stars continue to smoke in movies, influencing their fans. But the Health ministry is committed to fight the trend. We have allocated Rs 500 crore under the 11th Five-Year Plan for anti-tobacco programmes.'