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Tobacco use falls in pregnant, lactating Indian women

pregnant woman smoking

COVID-19 severity and mortality rates prompted many tobacco users in India to quit, says a survey by the National Family Health Survey of India 

Tobacco use among pregnant and lactating women

Tobacco use among pregnant and lactating women in India has witnessed a reduction in recent years, a survey conducted by the National Family Health Survey of India (NFHS) has revealed. 

The survey has been published in the latest edition of The Lancet.

According to the survey, 2.5% of currently pregnant women and 3.2% of currently married lactating women in India used tobacco in some form. Over 85% of tobacco-using currently married pregnant (85.6%) and lactating (85.6%) women use smokeless tobacco (SLT) only. 

However, the  results of the fifth round of the survey (NFHS-4) conducted between 2019 and 2021, indicate a decline in tobacco use among them, 

Since the year 2005, data from nationally representative surveys in the country consistently documents the increasing trend of tobacco use among women, particularly SLT that is culturally more acceptable in women than smoked tobacco. 

Evidence from the NFHS-4 and Global Adult Tobacco survey-2 (GATS-2) indicates that 4% to 7.4% of pregnant women and about 5% of lactating women in India consume any form of SLT among which gutka and paan with tobacco are the most commonly consumed.

In India, nearly 267 million adults (15 years and above) consume tobacco, accounting for about 1.35 million deaths annually. Tobacco use is a significant risk factor for many chronic diseases, including cancer, lung disease, cardiovascular disease and stroke. The most prevalent form of tobacco use in India is SLT which includes tobacco products consumed without combustion either by chewing, dipping, snuffing or applying on teeth and gums. Nearly 90% of global SLT users belong to the Indian subcontinent.  Most commonly used forms of SLT are khaini, gutkha, betel quid with tobacco and zarda and the forms of smoked tobacco (ST) are bidi, cigarette and hookah.

The survey says despite the strong presence of adequate evidence to demonstrate the detrimental effects of the use of tobacco in any form among pregnant and lactating women, the situation continues to be worrisome in this particular group as a grave risk is posed to the mother as well as her unborn child. 

“Although tobacco control measures over the years have aided in reducing tobacco use among women in India, there is still a need for more focused gender-based efforts to prevent this vulnerable group of women from falling prey to the perils of tobacco use.”

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