Have Socioeconomic Inequalities in Tobacco Use in India Increased Over Time? Trends From the National Sample Surveys (2000-2012)

Nicotine Tob Res. 2016 Aug;18(8):1711-8. doi: 10.1093/ntr/ntw092. Epub 2016 Apr 5.


Introduction: India has experienced marked sociocultural change, economic growth and industry promotion of tobacco products over the past decade. Little is known about the influence of these factors on socioeconomic patterning of tobacco use. This study examines trends in tobacco use by socioeconomic status (SES) in India between 2000 and 2012.

Methods: We analyzed data in 2014 from nationally-representative repeated cross-sectional National Sample Surveys (NSS) in India for 1999-2000, 2004-2005 and 2011-2012 (n = 346 612 households). Prevalence and volume trends in cigarette, "bidi" and smokeless tobacco use were examined by household expenditure, educational attainment and caste/tribe status using Two-part model.

Results: Prevalence of any tobacco use remained consistent in the poorest households (61.5% to 62.7%) and declined among the richest (43.8% to 36.8%) between 2000-2012. Bidi use declined across all groups (poorest: 26.3% to 16.8%, richest: 19.8% to 10.7%) while cigarette use increased (poorest: 1.2% to 1.3%, richest: 6.5% to 7.0%). Relative to educated and general caste households, between 2000 and 2012 cigarette use in illiterate households increased by 38% and among Scheduled Tribe households increased by 32%. Smokeless tobacco use increased for all households (poorest: 26.2% to 33.9%, richest: 11.4% to 13.5%, Scheduled Tribe: 31.1% to 34.8%, general caste: 13.6% to 18.5%), with greater increases among richer, more educated and general caste households.

Conclusion: Marked SES patterning of tobacco use has persisted in India. Improving enforcement of tobacco control policies and monitoring comprehensive smoke-free legislations are needed to address this growing burden.

Implications: We found "resilient" tobacco patterns in the last decade despite prevention interventions. SES continues to be inversely associated with tobacco products, with the exception of cigarettes. The declines in bidi use may be getting replaced by increase in cigarette use trends, especially among lower SES groups. The use of smokeless tobacco products has increased across all SES groups and the volume of smokeless tobacco use is not been declining despite a number of policies on tobacco use. This may be attributed to inadequate attention to chewed forms of tobacco in current policies, particularly to implementing pictoral warnings and regulating surrogate advertising. Evaluating the implementation of anti-tobacco policies and ensuring equity dimensions in interventions is urgently needed to address tobacco use inequalities.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Family Characteristics*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • India / epidemiology
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prevalence
  • Smoking / epidemiology*
  • Smoking / trends
  • Smoking Prevention
  • Social Class*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Tobacco Products
  • Tobacco Use / epidemiology
  • Tobacco Use / prevention & control
  • Tobacco Use / trends
  • Tobacco, Smokeless