Seventy-two-year-old Nalini Satyanarayana has never smoked a cigarette in her life. Yet, as fate would have it, she contracted throat cancer in 2009, at the age of 61, and lost her voice box to the adverse effects of passive smoking. She underwent surgery in April 2010, after which an artificial voice box was fitted in her throat.
Now that she has successfully recovered from the disease, Satyanarayana believes the harmful effects of passive smoking on non-smokers are inadequately addressed by Indian lawmakers and the society at large.
“On being diagnosed with throat (voice box) cancer, the doctor treating me found my exposure to second-hand (passive) smoke in my house due to my husband’s smoking habits as the reason behind the same,” she told Indianexpress.com in an email interaction.
As her condition worsened, Satyanarayana was left with a hole in her neck as doctors had to remove her vocal chord and thyroid gland. “My vocal cords and the thyroid gland then had to be removed, leaving me with a stoma (a hole in the neck) after which I was fed through a tube attached to my stomach,” she described.
Urging the government to give attention to the sufferings of non-smokers due to passive smoking, Satyanarayana recently wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan, and Karnataka Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa demanding their intervention to revise designated smoking areas as per the existing rules.
Satyanarayana, who is now an activist fighting for anti-tobacco laws, said around 17 per cent of exposure to passive smoking takes place in eateries, specifically hotels, restaurants, bars, pubs, and clubs. “The Cigarette and Other Tobacco Products Act (COTPA) permits smoking in restaurants and hotels with more than 30 seating capacity. The Designated Smoking Area (DSA) should be set, with strict guidelines in the best interest of the health of Non-smokers. However, the enforcing officials are permitting to set up DSA in all the facilities which are non-compliant to COTPA,” she mentioned in her letter to leaders holding top positions in the state and the country.
She explained that laws are inadequate and this policy lacunae puts thousands of non-smokers’ lives — including that of children, women, and the elderly — at the risk of passive smoking. “Further, employees in establishments with faulty DSA are at high risk of not just cancer but also other lung and heart diseases as they are exposed to the smoke involuntarily” she added.
A decade has elapsed since her battle with cancer. But Satyanarayana has used this intervening period to develop a positive outlook on her life by talking using a voice prosthesis — a valve that allows making sounds by pushing air from the lungs through up into the mouth — and by learning how to use modern gadgets to popularise her views and gain more voices and support for her campaign.
As October 2 this year marks the 12th year since The Prohibition of Smoking in Public Places Rules (2008) came into being, Satyanarayana firmly believes her strained voice would be heard on behalf of millions of others by the lawmakers in India to develop stringent laws to control smoking in public spaces.
“My dream is to create a tobacco-free society in the future. It is difficult but not impossible,” she said.
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