Schools up ante against use of tobacco with routine inspections, counselling

Two years ago, the tobacco cessation centre at Cancer Institute, Adyar, received probably its youngest patient ever.

The class II boy was addicted to tobacco and got into the habit due to peer pressure, said a doctor.

Last week, the headmaster of a government-aided school said he caught some boys consuming chewable tobacco in class.

In what is fast turning out to be a worrisome trend, studies reveal the age of initiation to tobacco is reducing every year.

A survey conducted by the Cancer Institute a few years ago, among 15,186 students between the ages of 10 and 15 years in government and private schools, found 3.2 per cent of students were tobacco users. Another 1.6 per cent said they intended to use tobacco in the future.

The study found 2.4 per cent of students first used tobacco at 14 years of age, 2.9 per cent at 10 years and 13 years, 3.6 per cent at 15 years, 3.7 per cent at 12 years and 5.8 per cent at 11 years. More than half the students surveyed reported family use of tobacco and 28.6 per cent said they procured tobacco products for their parents.

According to experts, various day-to-day factors, including watching people smoke, sale of tobacco, peer pressure and procurement of tobacco for parents, tempt students to take up smoking. Schools played an important role in early intervention and awareness, they said.

A principal of a school in Nungambakkam said there were several petty shops in the vicinity of the school where people stood around smoking. “It is a challenge for us. Even though our students do not consume tobacco, it is a bad influence,” she said.

According to an official, in January, a class X teacher found many boys in the class drowsy after lunch hour. On enquiry, it was revealed the students had consumed gutka. “After that, we got a counsellor on board who worked with the students for a sustained period,” the official said.

The principal of a matriculation school said though she had not caught her students using or carrying tobacco products till date, she was always vigilant. “We conduct surprise checks during which we also look for tobacco products,” she said.

The headmaster of another aided school said a student counsellor visited her school almost on a weekly basis and prevention of tobacco use was one of the important issues addressed.

“Tobacco use among students is a cause for concern. Availability of newer forms of tobacco poses a big challenge. Some of these products are advertised online. As most students are active on social networking sites, they easily come across such advertisements,” said E. Vidhubala, associate professor of department of psycho-oncology, Cancer Institute.

On its part, CBSE has issued guidelines on maintaining tobacco-free schools (see box).

Experts are of the view that implementation of the Cigarettes and other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Act, 2003, (COTPA Act) has been a challenge.

Recently, a survey to evaluate the compliance to Section 6b of the Act — which prohibits the sale of tobacco products within 100 yards of educational institutions — found there were several shops selling tobacco within 100 yards of the surveyed institutions.

The survey looked at 316 educational institutions — 255 schools and 61 colleges in Chennai. At least 190 schools had shops selling tobacco products in their vicinity.

The Department of Public Health proposes to declare all educational institutions as smoke-free campuses by the end of 2013. So far, 12,000 institutions have been declared smoke-free, an official said.

The department has also developed a 24-chapter module for classes VI, VII and VIII with a chapter on ill-effects of tobacco in 2012. Enforcement squads have been put in place to check on violations of COTPA Act, the official said.

“The education department has issued a government order directing schools to not accept sponsorships or gifts for sports or cultural events from tobacco manufacturing companies,” said P. Vadivelan, State tobacco control officer and joint director of public health and preventive medicine.

The need of the hour, according to Dr. Vidhubala, is school-based intervention to influence children against tobacco use. “The effective implementation of the COTPA Act is also crucial,” she said.

CBSE guidelines for tobacco-free schools

Smoking or chewing of tobacco is not permitted inside premises of educational institutions

The principal/head of institution must have a copy of the Cigarette and other Tobacco Products Act (COTPA), 2003

Tobacco control activities must be integrated with school health programmes and health and wellness clubs

There must be emphasis on regular vigilance against smoking at home and school. The matter can be discussed at PTA meetings too

Students must be made aware of recent laws on prohibition of use of tobacco products in public places

Source: CBSE circular dated 24 April, 2012

A school-based survey conducted by Cancer Institute, Adyar, among 15,186 students in Chennai revealed the following:

> 3.2% of students surveyed used tobacco

> 1.6% said they intented to use tobacco in the future

> Pre-teens (11 and 12 year-olds) and 15-year-olds were found to be more vulnerable

> 56.3% reported family use of tobacco

What the COTPA Act, 2003, says:

1) Sale of cigarettes/tobacco products to any person under 18 years of age is prohibited

2) Sale of tobacco products within 100 yards of any educational institution is prohibited

3) Educational institutions should put up 'no smoking' boards and other warnings against sale of tobacco

4) Shops should display boards declaring sale of tobacco products to minors is prohibited

5) Fine of Rs. 200 must be imposed on shops selling tobacco products to minors

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