Passive smoking and lack of hygiene breeds childhood pneumonia

Hygiene and cleanliness should be maintained within the households and children should not be exposed to tobacco smoke or smoke coming out of cook stoves. Passive tobacco smoke is not only harmful for health but also puts children at high risk of contracting pneumonia. "Cleanliness and hygiene is very important for controlling pneumonia especially in children. In our country there is a tradition to put kohl (kajala) in the eyes of the children, give them oil massages, etc. We need to be very cautious regarding hygiene when it comes to children as their immunity is still developing" said Dr KN Dwivedi, noted Paediatrician from Gorakhpur.

"Children of ages 7-10 years are likely to be smoking beedi or eating 'surti' tobacco in the urban slum I live in Gorakhpur" said Pradeep Srivastava, a father of a child with pneumonia. "It is difficult to protect children from being exposed to second hand tobacco smoke because of two reasons: our slum dwelling is so small and tobacco use is high and secondly, people are not aware that second hand tobacco smoke can put one's child at risk of pneumonia" said Srivastava.

Speaking to two mothers of newly born infants we realized that both of them were not aware of the dangers of second hand tobacco smoke. They weren't aware about the fact that second hand tobacco smoke can put a child at risk of contracting pneumonia among other serious health hazards. One of the two mothers was herself eating 'surti' tobacco. Most tobacco users in his slum consume tobacco in either 'beedi' smoking or chewing 'surti' forms, informs Srivastava.

"My grandson had pneumonia. He had respiratory problems, was short of breath, pain in abdomen and fever. Doctors said that he got pneumonia due to exposure to cold weather. His mother had breastfed him for 5-6 months and then we began feeding him cow's milk. No one smokes in our house but people do eat tobacco in form of 'surti'. We cook our food on stoves by burning wood and exposure of the grandson to this smoke was there" said Indrawati, a slum resident in Gorakhpur.

According to experts smoke from cook stoves or tobacco can heighten the risk of pneumonia for children. Second hand tobacco smoke is dangerous anyways for everyone and can cause life-threatening diseases and disabilities attributed to tobacco use.

According to Professor (Dr) Rama Kant, a World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General's Awardee on tobacco control: "In India it is estimated that about 100 million people use tobacco in form of 'beedi' (leaves rolled with tobacco). It is also estimated in a Beedi Monograph which was recently released by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare that the number of beedi smoking people dying of tobacco-related deaths is greater than the number of deaths among those using tobacco in other forms."

Prof (Dr) Rama Kant adds: "Tobacco is dangerous in all forms. Presently many states in India report alarming levels of beedi smoking such as 10.6 - 14.2% beedi smoking in Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland and Sikkim; 4.6-9.2% in states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chandigarh and Meghalaya. Mizoram has highest beedi smoking rates in India and Punjab has the lowest incidence of beedi smoking."

Prof Rama Kant who is also the President-elect of Association of Surgeons of India (ASI), explains: "Beedi usually has less amount of tobacco but high amount of tar, nicotine and other harmful ingredients. There are some ingredients in beedi that greatly increase the risk of developing cancers. Beedi smokers develop life-threatening tobacco related diseases and disabilities including cancers among which oral cancer, cancer of respiratory tract, etc are very common. The beedi monograph also mentions that such tobacco related cancers constitute 75% of all cancers."

Children in particular should be protected from tobacco smoke or smoke coming out of cook stoves and also be brought up in clean, hygiene and healthy environment.

Jitendra Dwivedi – CNS
(Translation: Bobby Ramakant – CNS)