In a small Raigad taluka, 136 schools score against tobacco

Mhalsa block education officer joined hands with Salaam Bombay Trust last Dussehra

What Mumbai couldn't achieve, a small taluka in Raigad district has managed. And with aplomb. In June 2015, Mhalsa takula managed to make all its 136 schools tobacco free. This is the result of a 10-month initiative by Mumbai-based NGO Salaam Bombay Foundation along with local education officials.

Deepak Patil, the NGO's Maharashtra Project Head, Rural Initiative, said though the initiative to rid society of tobacco has been around for 10 years, it's the first time that an entire taluka has adopted it.

The NGO's Tobacco-Free Schools campaign has a 11-point module (see box), and when this was being presented at one of the schools in Mhalsa last July, its block education officer Vijaya Talkute, took note.

"Our taluka is divided in two beats and 11 clusters, with a total of 136 schools. With support from schools and officials in each cluster, I knew, it was possible to achieve the goal. All we needed was a practical approach,” she adds.

She launched the programme last Dussehra, handpicking teachers to head local committees. They were responsible for sharing updates and ensuring that their respective areas were working towards the common goal. Talkute says what helped is that everybody associated with the campaign focused on winning the title of a tobacco-free school.

All the 136 schools then participated in Jagar Mahotsav, an event that had series of competitions wall painting, street plays, rangoli making, science exhibitions, elocution, essay writing with one common subject: tobacco abuse and awareness.

To prepare, children had to learn the ramifications of tobacco abuse, the number of cancer patients in the state and what needed to be done to becoming a tobacco-free school. Initially, the campaign did face the cynicism of faculty members, local socialists and politicians.

“There was a political force that was working against us,” admits Patil. However, this changed with the death of former home minister R R Patil from mouth cancer in February 2015. “That ensured that all opposition ended, creating a favourable environment for the campaign,” he adds.

The campaign made it a point to felicitate those who had quit tobacco products since the launch of the initiative. NGO members and educational block officers say, this played a key role in encouraging teachers, students and schools to do more.

The students, local education officials say, became the ultimate weapon, extending the initiative to their homes as well. “We would meet children at schools, give them Rs 10 and asked them to get tobacco packets or cigarettes. They would refuse outright. One student told me that he made his grandfather quit tobacco by extracting a promise from him.

That's when we realised that children have become the pillars or our campaign,” says Talkute. Last month, officials from the NGO went to all the schools to check their progress. With each meeting their tobacco-free requirement, Mhalsa scored an 100 per cent. The officers hope that the campaign continues.

Talkute says she is going to be transferred to Pune, but hopes that the campaign continues. “Mhalsa should be an example, not only for the state, but the country. Therefore, we need to maintain our course,” she adds. On why Mumbai didn’t achieve similar results, Patil blames lack of support.

“We need support from authorities, participants and people. In Mumbai, regardless of the strata of society, the relation between teachers and students is far from being close-knit. Secondly, while we haven’t faced difficulties in getting permission from the authorities, none work on it sincerely. This was easier in Mhalsa. However, if they can do it, every single taluka and district can achieve it,” he says.

Is your school tobacco free?

Salaam Bombay's rulebook
1. Display of a ‘Tobacco-free School’ board outside the main entrance

2. No sale of tobacco products inside the premises and within a 100-yard radius of the educational institution.

3. No smoking or chewing of tobacco inside by students/teachers/staff /visitors.

4. Display of sign board ‘No Smoking Area-Smoking here is an offence’, of 60x30cm size inside the institution (as mandated by law).

5. Posters with information about the harmful effects of tobacco to be displayed at across school. Students to be encouraged to make their own posters on tobacco-control themes.

6. A copy of the Cigarette and Other Tobacco Products Act (COTPA) 2003 should be available with the principal. (May be downloaded from the website of the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare- www.mohfw.nic.in)

7. A ‘Tobacco Control Committee’ should be in place. It may be chaired by school head with teacher, school counsellor (if available), at least two NSS/NCC/scout students, at least two parents representatives, area MLA, area SHO, Municipal Councilor, member of PRIs, any other member. The committee shall monitor the tobacco control initiatives of the school/institute. The committee shall meet quarterly and report to the district administration.

8. Integrate tobacco control activities with ongoing School Health Programme

9. Promote writing of anti-tobacco slogans on the School/Institute stationery.

10. The principal shall recognise tobacco control initiatives through awards.

11. State Nodal Officer for Tobacco Control in the State Health Directorate may be consulted for technical or any other inputs.

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