/ April 18, 2017 /
For Durgaiah, it has been an arduous journey from being a small-scale farmer in Hunsemaradoddi, Karnataka to being a committed public health advocate. As a cancer survivor, his focus in life now is to sensitize the society to the menace of tobacco use.
Durgaiah remembers his first brush with tobacco. He started smoking beedi during school years and was hooked almost immediately. Before long he was smoking close to 40 cigarettes a day; a habit which persisted till he was in his forties. Years of tobacco addiction damaged his lungs and when advised to give up smoking, he turned to chewing tobacco, thinking of it as a safer option. Soon Durgaiah found he had difficulties with breathing and speaking, and was rushed to a hospital in Bangalore. There he was diagnosed with cancer. Long years of tobacco addiction had finally shown up in the form of throat cancer.
Durgaiah was lucky to survive and regain his ability to speak. After surgery, he underwent radiotherapy and was fitted with a prosthesis which allowed him to get his voice back. Delighted and relieved to be able to speak, Durgaiah talked non-stop all day. As a local theatre artist, losing his voice had been a particularly traumatic experience for him. He shuddered at the thought that he could have been one of the million Indians who die every year because of tobacco use. He also realised that awareness of tobacco hazards could have saved him from the near brush with death and the financial distress caused by the expensive treatment. Having been a victim of substance abuse, Durgaiah decided to spread awareness about the issue to prevent needless suffering.
Using his experiences to illustrate the point, Durgaiah works hard within his community to convince people to give up the use of tobacco products. He also works with organisations that offer him a platform to propagate his mission. He has addressed schoolchildren, youth, policy makers and even the police in his efforts to spread awareness of tobacco hazards. A strong advocate of graphic warnings on tobacco products; Durgaiah believes that adequate warnings with photos of actual cancer patients will go a long way in winning the fight against tobacco addiction.