Almost 250 million adults consume smokeless tobacco in India and 10 other countries in WHO's South-East Asia Region, accounting for 90% global smokeless tobacco users, according to WHO. The world health body said the figure is in addition to 250 million smokers in the region.
Given the high number of users and serious health consequences of tobacco use, nations in the region have set a target for 30% reduction in prevalence of current tobacco use by persons over 15 years age.
The WHO said oral cancer is the most common cancer caused by smokeless tobacco and the SE-Asia Region carries the highest burden of oral cancer with over 95,000 oral cancer cases each year.
International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) said over half of all oral cancers in Asia are caused by tobacco. Oral cancer affects the poor, who have a greater exposure to smokeless tobacco.
Studies in Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand have shown that both smoking and use of smokeless tobacco are more prevalent among the less educated and illiterate population.
Smokeless tobacco is associated with a 2–4 times increase in risk for cardiovascular diseases. Asian studies indicate that mortality risk for women who consume smokeless tobacco is higher than that for men. Use of smokeless tobacco in pregnancy is linked to stillbirths and has 2–3 times higher risk of low birth weight babies. "Use of smokeless tobacco is rampant in South East Asia. Lack of public awareness and incomplete knowledge about the harmful effects of smokeless tobacco are powerful obstacles in creating effective tobacco control policies," WHO Regional Director (South-East Asia) Samlee Plianbangchang said.