[Survivor Series] I was addicted to chewing tobacco for 35 years but am helping others quit the habit now

In this week's Survivor Series, K R, a former tobacco addict shares the story of how he overcame his chewing tobacco addiction and has initiated social welfare projects to help others

[Survivor Series] I was addicted to chewing tobacco for 35 years but am helping others quit the habit now

Tuesday June 15, 2021,

3 min Read

My name is K R (name changed) and I am a 65-year-old married man. I live in Mumbai and come from a family of folk singers. I had a very happy childhood and never gave any trouble as a teenager. My parents were very loving, and gave me everything possible within their means, and always encouraged me to be independent and responsible.

When I was 30 years old, I started chewing tobacco. It first started when I was going out with my friends. Everyone was doing it and I succumbed to peer pressure and started using chewing tobacco once in a while. Then it increased to once or twice a week.

Handmade tobacco

Millions of Indians use tobacco in some form or the other.

Image credit: Shutterstock

A change of job when I tried starting a business put a lot of pressure on me and I began to chew tobacco daily because I thought it helped relieve the stress. It started with me picking a packet of khaini (chewing tobacco) at the end of each day to relieve the stress of the day. I soon convinced myself that it helped me perform better at my work and made me more focussed.

Eventually I was chewing tobacco throughout the day. I was so addicted that I believed that I would perform badly at work if I did not chew tobacco. It was a matter of time before my habit took its toll on my health. I started having severe lung and throat infections that impacted my singing. I would have a constant burning in my stomach and experience severe bouts of depression. This began to impact his marriage as well.

My physician referred me to cessation counselling with the LifeFirst programme, which offers tobacco deaddiction counselling.  When I first met my counsellor Grishma Shah, I was very defensive and stubborn about admitting that I had a problem.

I even tried to convince her that I did not have a severe problem and that the situation had been exaggerated.

But she patiently debunked the myth that smokeless tobacco was harmless and all my misconceptions were slowly explained. I decided overnight that I would change my ways and slowly started working towards a more healthy lifestyle. My recovery process began with me slowly reducing the amount of tobacco I chewed each day. I then started chewing azadirachta (a type of neem seed), carom seeds, Kanthil (a herbal product that is used to treat cough and colds), fennel seeds, and drinking water as substitutes whenever I felt the urge to chew some tobacco. This really helped cut down my consumption. And then the pandemic broke.

During the lockdown, I continued with telephonic counseling, which kept me motivated on my journey to quit. In each session, a realistic goal was made with small steps to achieve and reinforce the final target. 

During the counselling sessions, various lifestyle changes were discussed to support my

journey. I started following the right diet and started doing regular exercise to cope with the psychological effects of withdrawal. I even started reading books again. 

On June 10, 2020, I was finally able to quit and August 10, 2020, was my last counseling session and I was able to talk about how positive I felt.

Since then, I have decided to help the community and I started a rainwater harvesting project in my area and a few other environment conservation projects. I have decided to devote my life to the welfare of society and will take whatever opportunity I can to encourage people to live a tobacco-free, healthy life.

Edited by Diya Koshy George