While growing up in India, I remember an advertisement from one of the major tobacco companies that had a slogan “with a cigarette in my hand, now I am a man”. This advertisement was popular among youngsters that somehow led them to believe that smoking made them more masculine and stronger as compared to the non-smoking ones. Anti-tobacco campaigns are on a mission to steer youngsters away from smoking and the mission has been named “catch ‘em young”.
What does the data about smoking in relation to youngsters reveal?
In general, the data collected by Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), says that annually about 800,000 tobacco deaths occur in India. According to Sunitha Gupta, convenor of the Indian Cancer Society (ICS) “Youngsters especially in school are most vulnerable to smoking and they start as early as at 8-10 years,”.
A survey conducted in school children at New Delhi, capital of India. The results of the survey revealed that students start smoking during their teen age with many of them started early as at eight. Similar comment was made by P.C. Bhatnagar, a public health specialist working with the Voluntary Health Association of India (VHAI), who said that children were especially vulnerable to tobacco usage and diseases.
Dinesh Chandra Katiyar, a senior surgical oncologist with HealthCare Global, a Bangalore-based oncology care network, has similar story to tell. According to him use of chewing tobacco products (like ‘pan masala’ and ‘kheni’, a crude form of tobacco) are on a constant rise; more and more youngsters are chewing tobacco products with chunna (lime) in rural areas and small towns.
Katiyar also acknowledged that prevalence of head and neck cancer is around 30% of all cancers in India, which amounts to about 1.5 million people. A fourteen year child was the youngest patient who was treated for neck cancer occurred due to chewing of tobacco,” Katiyar said.
Apart from the cancer, tobacco can also lead to early onset of cardiovascular diseases. Balbir Singh, senior consultant electro-physiology and interventional cardiology at the Indraprastha Apollo Hospital, Delhi says that it has been proven that smoking is the most common cause of young age heart attacks. Singh said he had seen a steady number of youngsters with heart ailments. They were usually smokers.
What are the main causes of increase of tobacco consumption in youngsters?
The most common causes for the increase in consumption of tobacco are curiosity, peer pressure and if they see their parents smoke. The liking for tobacco at young age becomes addition after a period of time.
What are the steps taken...
to address the increase of tobacco consumption by youngsters?
Many steps are being pursued and some the major ones include:
· Awareness campaigns: Educating youngsters about the ill effects of tobacco intake and the potential dreaded diseases. Awareness will be spread through videos, pictures and hence providing them information about effects of smoking like bad and dry skin, bad breath, that it could lead impotency.
· Images on tobacco products: VHAI has lobbied for pictorial warning on packs. Indian tobacco products will come out with pictorial warnings like gory pictures of blackened lungs and other vivid warnings.
· Radio advertisements: Radio channels such as Radio Mirchi are very popular among youngsters. Radio is an excellent mode to communicate anti-tobacco messages to the youngsters.
· Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act, 2003: VHAI formulated Cigarettes and other Tobacco Products Act, under which smoking in public places and sale of tobacco to minors or 100 yards from educational institutions are banned.
Like charity begins at home. Awareness regarding ill-effects of tobacco should be given at home and schools as per Raman Sodhi, a practicing psychotherapist and student counselor. It is imperative that parents talk to their children and if they themselves smoke, must set up an example for their kids by quitting themselves.
I think, increase in tobacco consumption in youngsters is not limited to India, but is a global problem. It would be much easier to educate at a young age than at his adulthood. I wish the very best of luck to anti-tobacco campaigns and hope to see a future that is smoke free.