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The 13th World Conference on Tobacco OR Health

Building capacity for a tobacco-free world

July 12-15, 2006, Washington, DC, USA

Thursday, July 13, 2006 - 12:00 PM

Sikhs and 300 Years of Effective Tobacco Control-the Little Known Success Story

Kawaldip Sehmi, MBA, QUIT, 211 Old Street, London, EC1V 9NR, United Kingdom


The Sikh nation has since 1699 taken novel approaches in denormalising tobacco in their society. These approaches have not been well publicised. (1) (2)

The main objective of this study was to assess if these approaches have survived and worked well in the Sikh populations in UK and Canada today.


On 13th April 1699 (Vaisakhi), the 10th Sikh Guru created the Khalsa (The Pure) in the Punjab North West India. The Khalsa were marked with the wearing of 5 K symbols (Turban etc) and taking of the amrit oath to abstain from tobacco for life. Sikh tobacco denormalisation strategies have for over 300 years prevented tobacco uptake and use in the communities. Literature review shows that there are single digit, below 3%, prevalence rates in Sikhs in India.

We interviewed Sikh organisations in the UK and Canada to establish what the current tobacco use, cessation and control position was in their communities. What approaches had succeeded and which have failed. Was the current generation observing the codes.


The denormalisation codes are still holding in most cases. There are however pressures from tobacco advertising and promotion on media that are weakening the traditional approaches. There is much that the world can learn from this group.

1) BMJ 2004;328: 801-6.

2) Sehmi K Patterns and distribution of tobacco consumption in India: Impact of religion was not considered BMJ 2004; 328: