Although most of us loathe tobacco for all the ills that it causes, there are only a few unsung heroes among us who are being the change that all of us wish to see in the world. One such person is Mohammad Mauzam, an ethical shopkeeper at Srinagar’s Chanapora market who has never touched or sold any sort of tobacco product.
Mauzam has been running a grocery shop at Jamia Market Chanapora for many years now, but earning more money by selling tobacco has never been tempting to him.
“I don’t sell any sort of tobacco product because it is a gateway to drugs,” he says while speaking with Rising Kashmir on his inspiration on not selling tobacco products or Cigarettes in particular.
Jammu and Kashmir is one of the most hit places by tobacco in India. According to a global tobacco survey, one in five or 20.8 percent of the population in J&K is involved in smoking.
As per the survey 38.2 percent of men are involved in the consumption of some sort of tobacco and 58 percent of the population can be bracketed into the passive smoker’s category — the highest in the country.
Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has estimated that in a year, the population of Jammu and Kashmir loses 3,039 disability-adjusted life years and the Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease is highest in India here at 4,750 cases per 100,000.
The experts assume that the reason behind such havoc caused by tobacco is that smoking enjoys great social acceptance in Kashmir.
Therefore, Mohammad Mauzam’s simple act is heroic in itself. According to Mauzam, there have been various instances where he helped people realize the error of cigarette smoking and tobacco consumption, and it is something that nudges him to .
“Once there came an old person, he wanted to buy cigarettes, but when he came to know that I don’t sell it, he kissed my forehead. He was ashamed of his smoking. I believe in my manner that I have done my bit,” he adds proudly.
Mauzam treats his small act as a first step towards the greater good of society. He believes that acts such as his can create an anti-smoking narrative that Kashmir desperately needs.
“If every shopkeeper would start doing the same as I am doing, smoking may not exist anymore,” he comments. “Shopkeepers often say that cigarettes are a running item, and we can’t stop selling them. The problem is that we don’t trust God.”
It is assumed that cigarette companies add additional nicotine to the cigarettes, though the government has not placed a policy that would regulate or ban altogether, the addition of nicotine to the cigarettes. But tobacco addiction, due to its nicotine footprints can be hard to combat.
Experts say that the younger generations are the most volatile to addiction and need to be prevented from getting hooked onto tobacco products on a priority basis. Pertinently, last week, New Zealand banned the sale of tobacco to younger generations to phase out the nicotine addiction.
The Kashmir valley has been witnessing a steep rise in heart attacks and cardiac arrests, much of which is caused by cigarette smoking. According to ICMR, only 58 percent know that smoking can trigger a heart attack, and only 44 percent of smokers know that smoking can cause a stroke. This points towards the fact that there is a need for mass sensitization and decimation of information regarding the ill effects of smoking because the experts hint that Kashmir is turning into the smoking capital of India.
According to Mohammad Mauzam, religious leaders should take the lead and use the mosque pulpits once in a while to speak on the hazards of tobacco.
“On Fridays, people from all walks of life gather at the mosques, and preachers should speak to the society; use Hadith and Qur`an to make the case against tobacco,” he suggests.
The government has a policy that cigarettes cannot be sold within one hundred yards of an educational institution, but that policy is completely being violated. According to the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act, selling loose cigarettes is also banned, but that rule is thoroughly violated, not only in Jammu and Kashmir but across the country as well.
“Administration has clearly failed in curbing the tobacco menace,” Mauzam laments. “They should start organizing debates, rallies, and awareness campaigns so that there is enough awareness regarding the ill effects of smoking. The government can do a lot more than organize a seminar or two on the no-tobacco day.”
Mohammad Mauzam is a living example of integrity, social responsibility, and up-right behavior. If only, there were more like him, the world would be a better place to live.