Smokeless tobacco and health in India and South Asia

Respirology. 2003 Dec;8(4):419-31. doi: 10.1046/j.1440-1843.2003.00507.x.


South Asia is a major producer and net exporter of tobacco. Over one-third of tobacco consumed regionally is smokeless. Traditional forms like betel quid, tobacco with lime and tobacco tooth powder are commonly used and the use of new products is increasing, not only among men but also among children, teenagers, women of reproductive age, medical and dental students and in the South Asian diaspora. Smokeless tobacco users studied prospectively in India had age-adjusted relative risks for premature mortality of 1.2-1.96 (men) and 1.3 (women). Current male chewers of betel quid with tobacco in case-control studies in India had relative risks of oral cancer varying between 1.8-5.8 and relative risks for oesophageal cancer of 2.1-3.2. Oral submucous fibrosis is increasing due to the use of processed areca nut products, many containing tobacco. Pregnant women in India who used smokeless tobacco have a threefold increased risk of stillbirth and a two- to threefold increased risk of having a low birthweight infant. In recent years, several states in India have banned the sale, manufacture and storage of gutka, a smokeless tobacco product containing areca nut. In May 2003 in India, the Tobacco Products Bill 2001 was enacted to regulate the promotion and sale of all tobacco products. In two large-scale educational interventions in India, sizable proportions of tobacco users quit during 5-10 years of follow-up and incidence rates of oral leukoplakia measured in one study fell in the intervention cohort. Tobacco education must be imparted through schools, existing government health programmes and hospital outreach programmes.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Asia / epidemiology
  • Government Regulation
  • Health Promotion
  • Humans
  • India / epidemiology
  • Morbidity
  • Mortality
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Neoplasms / etiology
  • Oral Submucous Fibrosis / epidemiology
  • Oral Submucous Fibrosis / etiology
  • Tobacco, Smokeless / adverse effects*