Friday, 25 January 2008

Smoking is making the Indian PR Workplace Unhealthy and Unproductive!


This afternoon at lunch, I could not help sporadically eavesdropping into a conversation between two girls sat at lunch, at a table adjacent to mine, in a restaurant in downtown Fort that I tend to frequent for mid-week inspiration. I didn't really intend to but the profanities yelled on the cellphone and the incessant chain smoking made for distraction and so did their loud chatter; of course they were from a PR Firm. As I sat there pretending to eat, mostly I gleaned involuntary knowledge and smoke from the poison duo.

It took me back in time, to a not so distant period of time when I yet smoked, spoke loudly on my cellphone in public, I suspect my language is still peppered with the occasional swearing but I guess being put on a spot so often has made me a little more careful, a wisdom that springs from being toast. Now that I have quit smoking, on my third attempt that is, I realize how offensive smoking can be others in an ambient public environment.

Coming in to work and departing most days, I see young executives, fresh of the pan, with their flash MBAs and shiny diplomas, these ostensibly outstanding people, so sorted in their heads otherwise with ambition written large on their confident faces, strangely gathered in stairways, flicking ash from their cigarettes in these dirty ghettos, soaking in a perverse bond of cheap cigarettes, and an angst borne of real, apparent and sometimes imagined grouses. Across the world, young people and some times not so young people, with their heads screwed on the right way, when measured in all other criteria, seem so strangely out of character as they brave rain, bone numbing wind, searing heat, humidity and other adversity to waste their time in stairwells, street corners and other dives of the corporate underbelly, hooked to that nicotine fix.


It often confounds me on why they just hang around sucking cancer sticks as time ticks and deadlines bomb all around them. It is beyond reason why they are not in any rush to get home to spend time with a loved one or get a life and do whatever it is that PR consultants do beyond running the corporate rat race. This yoyo act of the pilgrimage to and fro from the dive to the desk and back continues till late afternoon at which point in the script the reality of the days' unshakable deliveries starts to become rather stark. This then produces a frenzied nightmare where work gets produced in bum rush fashion; an output that is mostly shoddy and of piss poor quality. The mute look of incomprehension on the faces of most client servicing and account management types (we seem to share this fraternity with other brethren in advertising and market research) when a client yells their tonsils off, is sometimes in my mind directly attributable to smoking and I am not talking about smoking anything beyond tobacco!

I have often wondered in amazement at how information aggregators like Factiva from Dow Jones have used the time saved in research multiplied by cost of executive time to show savings to an organization. In a similar fashion, the cost of an executive smoking multiplied by what he or she bills per hour, wasted in this mindless pursuit, I am sure will produce some pretty damning statistics. Continuing in this direction, I am wondering if Covey ever realised the big impact this activity would have on his quadrant of time management for effective people. He did capture some other low hanging fruit like gossip, trivia, being busy doing nothing, etc.

Although the dangers of tobacco use have been recognized for over half a century, and in an increasing number of countries have resulted in the banning of smoking in enclosed spaces, I want take a minute and talk about the costs to health due to smoking both physical and psychological from nicotine dependence, including its contributing to burn out and general depression. The costs in quitting are also not insignificant.

Smokers who have attempted and failed to quit will agree, will power; by itself is often not sufficient and smoking cessation aids are often needed. Estimated to be worth just $213 million 2006, according to a new report from independent market analyst Datamonitor, the prescription nicotine dependence market is set to grow strongly at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 16% to reach $4.6 billion by 2016. Nicotine dependence continues to represent a serious public health problem. Indeed, smoking is a major contributor to illnesses such as lung cancer, emphysema, heart disease and stroke, and is one of the world’s leading causes of preventable death.

Datamonitor estimates that nicotine dependence affects almost 116 million individuals across the seven major markets (7MM) – France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain, UK and US – in 2007, says Datamonitor central nervous system (CNS) analyst Charlotte Mackey. “Despite the currently high prevalence of nicotine dependence, evidence suggests that only a small proportion of individuals actively seek help from their primary care physician (PCP).” Imagine the statistics, in India, in proportion, if the US and most of Europe account for 116 million people! The adoption of nicotine patches is unheard of in India and I can"t begin to think of anyone consulting their doctor if they wanted to quit. The corresponding costs in healthcare that the smoking pandemic in India will cause in the immediate future makes me shudder!

Traditionally, January is the time of the year a lot of people resolve to quit smoking. I know it can be done as I finally managed to do it an year ago after 2 previous failed attempts, so can you; in the process saving yourself a lot of agony, time, money and health related problems, besides mitigating your colleagues, friends, family and loved ones from passive smoking. I have no doubt that it will also boost your avenues as a more effective and successful PR Professional by far, so quit now while you are ahead!

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