While commendable efforts have been made to reduce tobacco use in the Kashmir division, there is still work to be done

By Shakeel Bin Ali
Tobacco, a plant native to the Americas, has a long and complex history in Kashmir. Over centuries, it has evolved from a novelty introduced by Portuguese traders in the 16th century to a significant public health challenge in the 21st century. This article delves into the historical backdrop of tobacco in Kashmir and explores recent data from the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) to understand the current state of tobacco use in the valley.
Historical Perspective
Tobacco’s journey in Kashmir began with its introduction by Portuguese traders in the 16th century. It swiftly gained popularity among the locals, who found various ways to consume it. The Mughal emperors, notably Shah Jahan, played a crucial role in promoting tobacco. Tobacco pipes were introduced during this era, further ingraining the habit.
During the British colonial period, tobacco consumption in Jammu and Kashmir continued to expand. The British government imposed taxes on tobacco products, which not only generated substantial revenue but also fostered the growth of the tobacco industry in the region.
Current State of Tobacco Use in Kashmir
While the historical context is significant, it is crucial to focus on the present-day scenario of tobacco use in Kashmir. Data from the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) reveals a mixed picture. According to the latest survey, the prevalence of smoking tobacco in Kashmir has decreased by 1.1 percent. Nevertheless, Kashmir still ranks sixth-highest in the country for tobacco use.
Smokeless tobacco use in Kashmir is also lower than the national average, at 4.3 percent. However, this figure is higher than some other states, such as Himachal Pradesh (0.7 percent) and Gujarat (2.1 percent). Overall, the prevalence of both smoking and smokeless tobacco use in Kashmir has decreased by 2.9 percent since the previous survey.
It is worth noting that 20.8 percent of adults in Kashmir currently smoke tobacco, which is lower than the national average of 24.1 percent but higher than certain other regions like Himachal Pradesh (7.6 percent) and Kerala (14.1 percent).
Alarming Statistics and Gender Disparities
Despite the decrease in tobacco use, the GATS survey also uncovers alarming statistics. A striking 23.7 percent of adults in Kashmir use both smoking and smokeless tobacco, surpassing the national average of 20.9 percent.
Moreover, tobacco use in Kashmir displays significant gender disparities. The data shows that tobacco use is more common among men than women. Approximately 32.1 percent of men smoke tobacco, compared to only 11.1 percent of women. Similarly, 6.7 percent of men use smokeless tobacco, while only 2.3 percent of women do so.
Regional Variations
In terms of regional variations within Kashmir, Kupwara has the highest prevalence of tobacco use at a staggering 56.6 percent, while Srinagar boasts the lowest at 38.4 percent. Other districts, such as Shopian (52 percent), Pulwama (44.5 percent), Budgam (48.3 percent), Ganderbal (42.6 percent), Baramulla (41.2 percent), Bandipora (49.2 percent), and Anantnag (49.9 percent), all exhibit varying degrees of tobacco use.
Government Initiatives and Achievements
The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MOHFW), Government of India, reports that the administration has issued an impressive 2209 challans, generating revenue of Rs 1,47,086 as part of the Tobacco-Free Youth Campaign. Additionally, the Kashmir division has taken the lead in the ‘No Tobacco Pledge’ initiative, with a remarkable 5,92,315 pledges taken across educational institutions.
Public Health Implications
Tobacco, once introduced by Portuguese traders, has now grown into a significant public health challenge in Kashmir. The high prevalence of tobacco consumption poses severe risks to the health and well-being of the population.
Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable deaths globally and is responsible for millions of deaths each year. It is associated with various diseases, including cancer, heart disease, stroke, and lung diseases. Moreover, the nicotine in tobacco is highly addictive, making it challenging for individuals to quit.
Conclusion and Call for Action
The historical journey of tobacco in Kashmir reflects its deep-rooted presence in the valley, while the current data underscores the urgent need for action. While commendable efforts have been made to reduce tobacco use in the Kashmir division, there is still work to be done.
The government’s initiatives, including increased taxes on tobacco products, public awareness campaigns, and the ‘No Tobacco Pledge,’ are steps in the right direction. However, to achieve a tobacco-free Kashmir, further investment in tobacco cessation programs and improved access to tobacco-free alternatives is crucial.
The people of Kashmir have a rich history, and they deserve a healthier future free from the harmful effects of tobacco. It is time for concerted efforts, collaboration, and determination to transform Kashmir into a shining example of a tobacco-free society.
The writer can be reached at [email protected]

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