Women smokers on rise in BPOs & media, says cancer hospital study

About 41 per cent of BPO employees consume some form of tobacco, revealed a 18-month study done by doctors from Tata Memorial Cancer Hospital. The study also showed a rise in women smokers at call centres.

Conducted by Dr Gauravi Mishra, consultant department of preventive oncology at Tata Memorial Hospital, over a period of one year, the study involved more than 600 employees of four BPO units. It was revealed that eight percent of call center women employees were smokers.

The growing phenomenon of smoking among women employees is due to peer pressure. Several BPO employees frequent hookah bars to unwind, while others smoke in either the office corridors or washrooms. "A lot of women admitted to smoking while several complained about passive smoking," said Dr Mishra.

The study highlighted three major reasons for taking up smoking peer pressure, stress at both domestic and work place and odd working hours.

The study established that smoking occurred during break time where smokers and non-smokers intermingled. The average age of respondents was between 20-25 years. Surveyed male employees constituted 80% of the workforce and the women remaining 20%. The study will be published in the Indian Journal of Cancer.

Out of 646 employees who participated in the study, 265 were majorly into smoking and 17 frequented hookah bars. The rest were found to be addicted to non-smoking form of tobacco like gutkha, paan masala and betel nut.

During the period of study, doctors from Tata Hospital also conducted simultaneous tobacco cessation programmes. Doctors studied the most effective method of kicking the butt. Smokers from the four BPOs were provided four different methods to quit. While one BPO was provided with educational pamphlets, the other was given pamphlets as well as involved in focused group discussions. Employees in the third BPO were given one-on-one counselling and employees from the fourth were helped with medication. "At the end of study, it was found that tobacco quit rate in the first three BPOs were around 20 per cent, meaning less than 20 people had managed to quit at the end of one year. But, in the fourth BPO, that was provided with medication, the quit rate was about 20 % and about 45% had reduced consumption," said Mishra.

"The biggest hurdle was to follow them up for counseling as most of the young employees in this sector change their jobs frequently. In order to give them continuous counseling every BPO should have in house cessation clinics," Dr Mishra added.

As World Anti Tobacco Day approaches on Monday, doctors in the city highlight the rise in consumption of tobacco especially smoking among professionals. In another study conducted by Dr Ravikant Singh from Doctors for You highlighted rise in number of women smokers working in media industry.

In a survey conducted among 1,500 journalists across 15 leading print, electronic and advertising houses over a period of one month, it was found that the percentage of women in the media who smoked has increased from five to 35 percent in the last few years. Dr Singh said, "Tobacco companies have been using eye catching campaigns to target the gullible youth especially young women through various surrogate mediums such as fashion shows. This habit if picked up early in life becomes more difficult to get rid of especially if they are in the company of smokers."

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