Millions of people all over the world die because of tobacco use. The problem is also acute among school students, say experts. In April this year, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) had come out with a circular for stricter implementation of the already existing Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (COPTA) Act. The circular states —No person is allowed to sell tobacco products to a person below the age of 18 years and no person can sell tobacco products within 100 yards of any educational institution, failing which licences of the shops violating the rule can be revoked. But a survey by Salaam Bombay Foundation, a Non Governmental Organisation (NGO), has revealed that tobacco vendors continue to sell bidis, gutkha and other tobacco related products near schools.
“We have done a survey of 200 municipal and government aided schools, which are associated with Salaam Bombay Foundation. Out of 200 schools, 122 schools have shops selling tobacco products within 100 yards of their school. These 122 schools have 307 tobacco selling shops in total. Out of these 307 shops, 225 shops are without any licence,” said Devika Chadha, Program Director, Salaam Bombay Foundation. Another survey by Global Youth Tobacco Survey (GYTS) had earlier revealed that — in Maharashtra, 13 per cent of students currently use any form of tobacco; 4 per cent currently smoke cigarettes; 10 per cent currently use other forms of tobacco. The figures are depressing, say experts. “When you compare it to the population of the state, then the numbers are quite staggering,” said Dr Rajesh Dikshit, associate professor, Epidemiology, Tata Memorial Centre. Dikshit suggested, “Tobacco products are easily accessible and that is the problem. Implementation of anti-tobacco laws is not strict. Infact, action should be taken against those selling tobacco to minors. This can be in the form of fines or revoking licences.” Chadha believes that a more proactive approach will help.
“Parents, teachers and principals should prevent shops from selling tobacco products. They can lodge a complaint with the police or the BMC or the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), if they notice that shops are violating the rules. At the same time, one can explain to the shopkeepers about the rules. A common effort needs to be there,” said Chadha.
Dr Pradnya Talawadekar, country coordinator for the Indian Association of Palliative Care (IAPC) added, “COPTA has been there for many years now, but it has not been effective. Stricter implementation is important. Shops violating the act should be asked to pay a hefty fine. The current fine is a maximum of Rs 200, which is nothing.” Experts say that cases of fibrosis among children have increased in the past few years. “In case of fibrosis, sometimes patients find it difficult to even open their mouth. This happens if one keeps chewing gutkha or tobacco related products for many years. As far as tobacco is concerned, I think fibrosis is a bigger problem than cancer," said Dikshit. Inspite of various programmes aimed at raising awareness amongst students about harmful effects of tobacco, there can be various reasons as to why children develop this bad habit.
A survey conducted by GYTS amongst students in standards VIII-X, revealed—43.5 per cent think boys and 27.6 per cent think girls who smoke or chew tobacco have more friends; 49.3 per cent think boys and 37.8 per cent think girls who smoke or chew tobacco look more attractive. Purna Kurkure, paediatric oncologist at Tata Memorial Hospital added, “peer pressure too plays an important role.
You would want to try something out when you see your friends doing it. Children also have another disadvantage. If there are smokers at home, then chances of passive smoking are high.” While stricter enforcements of laws is a concern, the civic body has not cancelled the licence of a single shopkeeper selling tobacco and tobacco related products yet. Dr AA Bandiwadekar, executive health officer, BMC, explained, “We are still in the process of collecting data of the total number of shops, schools, etcetera. The education department and the heath department are working together in this respect. As soon as the data is ready we will issue a warning to shopkeepers who are selling tobacco within 100 yards of a school. If they continue to sell tobacco, their licences will be revoked.”
However parents are still wary of promises made by the authorities. Mita Vora, whose son is in Class V, from Tardeo emphasises, “poor implementation of laws in India is a perpetual problem. I doubt if the authorities will crackdown on shops which do not follow the anti-tobacco rules . As a parent, one can only hope that your child doesn’t get into all these. At least making your child aware of the harmful effects of tobacco is the first step.”
Say no to tobacco
World No Tobacco Day (WNTD) is observed around the world every year on May 31. It is meant to encourage a 24-hour period of abstinence from all forms of tobacco consumption across the globe. The day is further intended to draw global attention to the widespread prevalence of tobacco use and to negative health effects.