Cancer and Tobacco: Awareness Programme for the youth in High Schools


{mosimage} FOM Vasant Chaudhari teaches English to High School children in Chondi.

Chondi is a small village in the beautiful coastal district of Alibaugh South of Mumbai, some three hours by road. The Arabian Sea can be seen in all its charm and glory just minutes from the village.

Vasant ji is a CML patient and a beneficiary of Novartis' GIPAP being treated at Tata Hospital in Mumbai. He therefore visits the city regularly. The last couple of times he has visited the MaxIndia office he had been asking FOM Mumbai  to seriously consider visiting the village and spend time with his students. The children, he felt were not exposed to too many things outside their routine curriculum and would greatly benefit from an awareness lecture on Cancer. He also wanted us to speak to them about the harmful effects of Tobacco on health and Tobacco consumption as a risk factor for one of the most common of all cancers in India.


Many previous commitments and Friends of Max (FOM) meetings in different cities kept pushing this request into the background. But it did not really disappear from the FOM  radar and kept simmering on the back burner.

Tobacco and Cancer: It seemed to us an ideal project the FOM could take up and in fact it had already been suggested  to the Delhi and Kolkata group last year. In Mumbai we discussed the project with the Core group and found some volunteers who said they would be happy to join the “Lecture Team”. it was decided to at least conduct this one programme as a pilot project for other groups to emulate.


The need for such a programme

Oral Cancer is the No 1 cancer in Indian males and No 3 in Indian women. The socio-economic and demographic attributes of our country have made it a fertile ground for the tobacco habit and in recent years noticeable rise in tobacco consumption is seen especially in the young adults.

In India, besides beedis and cigarettes, tobacco is consumed in various other forms. Pan Masala and Gutka, both a kind of smokeless tobacco is responsible for an irreversible pre cancerous condition called sub mucous fibrosis. Due to its very aggressive advertising and the introduction of easy to procure and store aluminium foil packaging the sale and consumption of this harmful substance is uncontrolled.

Very popular in both urban and rural populations, tobacco is mixed with lime and chewed; the quid kept inside the oral cavity for long periods of time causing malignant changes to occur. Mishri, burnt tobacco powder is used to clean teeth and retained in the mouth while snuff is either inhaled in a dry powder form or kept in the mouth as a moist pellet. Tobacco toothpaste is also commonly used.

More than 20 lakh youngsters every year join the ever growing community of tobacco users in India without fully comprehending that this habit will result in a chemical dependency on Nicotine that is no different from addiction to heroin or cocaine. Young adults who pick up this habit are at risk of dying prematurely, not necessarily in their old age but in the prime of their lives; loses 20 to 25 years of their productive adult life.

It is essential to reach out to the young and especially amidst their peers as it is during this period; in the company of their friends they adopt life style choices that become compulsive, long term habits detrimental to their well being. The resulting disfiguration and loss of life is something that can be prevented.


Over 300 boys and girls attended the awareness lecture which was conducted with the help of simple audio visual aids and in an informal setting . Vasant ji introduced the team from Mumbai and encouraged the children to be proactive. His easy acceptance of his diagnosis and the sharing of that with the students helped in breaking the ice and soon the eager teenagers were all attention. There were many questions after the lecture and even the most self conscious and shy child was coming forward with comments and queries.

A very encouraging result of this session was a request from both the students and the staff of the school that we follow this programme with one directed at the parents of the children and another especially for the girls and their mothers on breast cancer awarenss .