Within five minutes of waking up Praveen K. has smoked his first cigarette setting the tone for the day. One before and after breakfast; one or more for the road and while on the road. The techie reaches
his office and heads straight to the designated smoking area. When he finds no company, he goes up to the office and returns after ten minutes with his band of colleagues and co-smokers.
According to Dr K. C.Lakshmaiah, Oncologist, Kidwai Hospital, workplaces have began to impact the smoking habits and also the health of the smokers and passive smokers.
Ban on smoking in public spaces came to force in October 2008 in an effort to curtail high levels of tobacco addiction.“In places like USA and European nations, smoking has come down whereas in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and other developing nations, it is actually rising,” says Dr Lakshmaiah. Tobacco smoking kills almost a million people each year in India alone.
Dr.Lakshmaiah enumerates some trends emerging out of our workplaces leading to an increase in smoking habits amongst the youngsters.
Social smoking on the rise
Most corporate offices have strict rules about smoking areas and have designated places for smoking, away from the main work area. With smoking areas getting further away, social smoking at workplaces has increased. Colleagues tend to ask each other out for a “smoke-break”. Even if the others have no inclination to smoke right then, they still tend to have a “ciggie, just for company”. Praveen says, “I definitely prefer to have company when I smoke, unless I am tensed and would rather be alone.” Pitfall? People are more likely to smoke when they have company.
This was bound to happen in a city that has so many back end offices, BPOs and call centers. People doing nightshifts tend to light up more often around midnight and in the early morning hours. And this is doubly harmful says Dr.Lakshmaiah. “First of all, the body is fighting against the adverse effects of changing the biological clock. Smoking will just compound the adverse effects. So, in my opinion, nighttime smoking will cause more harm than otherwise.”
Increase in women smokers
As women at work are increasing, so is the percentage of women smokers. With some it all boils down to equality. “Why shouldn’t I smoke, if I want to? Because I am a woman? That is regressive thinking?” says Ankita, a copywriter with a leading ad agency in the city and who is nicknamed the “Chimney” by friends and colleagues. Downsides are many for a woman smoker says Dr.Lakshmaiah. Infertility, skin problems, gynecological problems, eye damage, bladder problem, risk of abortion – these are some of the side effects of smoking , if you are a woman, apart from the big troublemakers which are oral cancer, lung cancer, esophagus cancer, cardio and respiratory problems.
As workplaces are getting younger, the rise of young smokers is not surprising. Youngsters in the age group of 25-30 tend to take up smoking as a way to beat stress. “More and more youngsters are using smoking as a stress buster. But by not smoking, they remain healthier and will be able to work better,” says Dr Lakshmaiah, “and this is something that workplaces need to take note.”
Marketing strategies have given rise to a false feeling of comfort as smokers are increasingly buying cigarettes with filter tips. Moreover, smoking branded cigarettes have become a status symbol for the yuppies in the city, note experts. Branded and imported cigarettes are preferred to cheaper brands as smokers are lulled to thinking that there are lesser toxic components in such cigarettes. “Even the office boy has started to buy cigarettes instead of bidis for two reasons: one, improving his social standing and two, for a supposedly better product. But this is not true. Filters are not going to stop all the 399 toxic substances that are there in the cigarette,” says Dr Lakshmaiah. Double filtered or multi-filtered cigarettes are not going to prevent the toxic impact of the ciggies.
What can be done?
At the workplace the emphasis should be to ban smoking and not smokers. So, instead of barring smokers it is better to give incentives at work for not smoking. According to Dr Lakshmaiah, offices must “give smokers cash incentives to stop smoking. That way the health of the workforce improves and substantial benefits can be gained like lesser insurance
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