If I say hello to smokers, I believe I will be addressing the majority of the people in the world. It is such a common habit nowadays that it has become a part our life. India is home to one of the largest-smoking population – estimated at 120 million.

A couple of weeks back when I was watching certain shows on the TV, an advertisement suddenly hit me. It was not mentioning the brand name, but projecting it as a help for people to quit smoking. It was being advertised by Pfizer. As I know about this drug, since I am working on it, I started thinking about CHAMPIX. CHAMPIX is the latest blockbuster from Pfizer – a billion-dollar-blockbuster drug. Pfizer launched CHAMPIX in India on 26 February 2008. The drug costs about Rs 10,000 (approx.) for a 12-week course.

CHAMPIX was introduced with much salute, and with good reason. I agree with that. A study conducted by scientists from India, Canada and the UK and published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that smoking kills 900,000 people every year in India, and unless corrective action is taken, soon the number will increase to 1 million annually by the year 2010 and beyond. Therefore, our government should do some thing as soon as possible.

On 25 February 2008, a day before the launch of CHAMPIX in India, I had gone through an article from Dow Jones Newswires which said that Pfizer had recently stopped running ads that identified CHAMPIX after the FDA had issued a safety alert about potential neuro-psychiatric side effects of the drug. Pfizer is running an ‘unbranded’ ad campaign about smoking cessation that doesn’t identify CHAMPIX.

Why does our Government entertain the entry of a drug that doesn’t reveal its identity? Are we saving our smokers in this way? The drug is facing a lot of controversy in the US and UK due to its side effects like depression which finally leads to suicide. There are strict warnings in these countries that people taking this medication should be under close monitoring by the doctors to identify the change in behaviour. They are given counseling and care with the drug.

Do our doctors follow the same method? I don’t think so. So smokers ‘BE AWARE’. Try to quit this habit with your willpower and the proper guidance of a physician. And let the whole world shout against the pharmaceutical companies that we are not ‘GUINEA PIGS’.