A lick of arsenic, a whiff of ammonia, a hint of hydrogen cyanide... a complete concoction of 210 carcinogenic chemicals is turning irresistible for Bangalore’s youngsters, who are increasingly getting hooked on tobacco. It may be more lethal than AIDS, but one of the world’s most socially acceptable habits - smoking - is on a rise, now killing 30-somethings with premature heart disease and pulmonary ailments.

Marijuana, cocaine and heroin are perhaps more condemned, but researchers believe nicotine wins hands down as the most addictive substance. Regular smoking can trigger an early onset of Smoker’s Lungs - a condition that goes largely undiagnosed, says Dr Padma Sundaram, pulmonologist at Manipal Hospital. This ailment, which used to usually surface after the age of 60 years, is now hitting smokers in their early-50s. “Often, Smokers’ Lungs is confused with bronchitis or pneumonia, and wrong medication is given which has no positive effect. This problem can reduce the quality of life if not checked on time,” she explains.

“Heart attack among 25-year-olds was earlier unheard of, but such cases are now becoming common. And so are oral, voice box and lung cancer, which are perhaps the most well-documented fallout of cancer,” says Dr Gopinath, director of Bangalore Institute of Oncology. According to Dr Gopinath, young professionals are now switching from smoking to chewing tobacco, that can have more dangerous consequences. “Apart from cancer, it can cause submucus fibrosis, a dental condition where the cheeks lose its elasticity and the patient cannot even open his jaw,” he says.

Peer pressure, an act to de-stress, the need to make a style statement - these are the prime motivators among youngsters to use tobacco, reveals H V Ramprakash, Secretary of Voluntary Health Association of Karnataka. According to him, tobacco consumption is growing by 2 per cent every year.

But why is it that despite intense awareness campaigns, the tobacco addiction continues to rise? The reason is hypocrisy, points out Dr Gopinath. “Parents do it, doctors do it, teachers do it, journalists do it. If all are guilty, who will set an example?” he asks.

Quite a valid question, that!