After Pongalipaka in Madugula mandal in Visakhapatnam hit the headlines for becoming Andhra Pradesh’s first tobacco-free village on May 31, 2012, efforts are under way to make 50 villages spread over six districts in the State tobacco-free by this year’s World No Tobacco Day.

“We are leaving no stone unturned to score a half century by making good number of villages – a majority of them in Visakhapatnam to join the club of tobacco-free villages by May 31 this year,” said Kishore Mogulluru, State consultant, Strengthening of Tobacco Control Efforts Through Innovative Partnerships and Strategies (STEPS).

He told The Hindu that bottom-up and top-down approach was being followed so that the villagers convince the vendors selling tobacco to shut down their shops, users to give up the addiction and tobacco growers motivated to shift to alternative crops like green gram and tomato. They also follow up multi-pronged advocacy campaign by actively involving Self-Help Groups.

Among 20 villages targeted to be declared tobacco-free are Gundipakalu in Chintapalli, Tunivalasa in Padmanabham, Degalapalem in GK Veedhi and Gutuluputu in Paderu mandals of the district. The programme is being implemented in Visakhapatnam, East Godavari, Prakasam, Kurnool, Mahabubnagar and Karimnagar districts by involving 45 SHGs with a membership of 340 with the help of partner-NGOs.

Dr. Mogulluru and Raghavendra Madhu, research associate of Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI), were part of the team which attended a training programme conducted for the SHGs by the partner-NGO for Visakhapatnam – Nature – here. PHFI is implementing the project, which was launched in 2009 with a grant of $5 million by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Apart from AP, it is implemented in parts of Gujarat as a pilot project. Mr. Madhu said they have been taking feedback on the implementation of the project from time-to-time to take corrective steps to achieve the objectives.