Despite campaigns and constant appeals for the inclusion of chapters on tobacco in English, Hindi and Marathi subjects for schoolchildren by anti-tobacco campaigners, there has been no positive response from the state or the Human Resource Development (HRD) Ministry. For the upcoming academic year, the students will not get to study any lessons on the hazards of tobacco.
Deadly delay: A pupil at a tobacco products kiosk close to a school.
Last year, the state governemnt proposed introduction of chapters on
the ill effects of tobacco in the school syllabus, but lessons on the
hazards of tobacco consumption will not begin next academic year.
Last year, after several signature campaigns and programmes against tobacco that were undertaken by forums such as Crusade Against Tobacco (CAT) and Maharashtra Anti-Tobacco Cell (MATC), the state had proposed to incorporate lessons on 'ill effects of tobacco' to impart awareness among schoolchildren across major cities in the state, including the city, Mumbai and Nagpur.
Sources say that the HRD Ministry is unlikely to give a go-ahead to the proposal. It was after students from all across the state dispatched thousands of letters to the ministry via National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCRT) that the state had considered incorporating a paragraph on tobacco in the books, which the activists claimed was not enough.
The chapters were to be prepared by doctors from major cancer hospitals, including Tata Memorial in Mumbai, who were even willing to deliver lectures on the subject to students from Std IV to X. "Somehow, the decision has been negated. By integrating chapters on tobacco, many lives can be saved. Though the state government has put up no smoking boards outside schools, it is not making any difference.
We were confident that this year the lessons will be included but unfortunately, we did not receive any response from the state," said Vincent Nazareth, CAT chairman and a member of MATC. Nazareth has also approached MP Rahul Gandhi for the same.
About two years ago, the CBSE board had proposed to include chapters on hazards of smoking, where students from several schools had signed a petition, urging the HRD Ministry to do the needful, as they felt that if pictures of cancer patients were included along with the text in schoolbooks, it would certainly deter them from smoking.
"The Department of State Educational Research and Training (DSERT) had finalised a set of points about the harmful effects of tobacco on a person's health: how it contains poisons like alkaloid and nicotine, and other 230 toxic chemicals that play a role in the onset of cancer," said Nazareth. "How it can make one's skin age faster and even cause impotency in men. All these points were to be included in the chapters along with the ways to quit the habit. The points are ready, the government has to only implement them."
By next week, CAT and MATC members have planned to knock on the doors of the Bombay High Court and file an appeal to urge the ministry to reconsider its decision.