Studies show that the number of students smoking is increasing. Is there a solution in sight?

During the pre-lunch break, I stepped out to get tea at the stall right at my college gate. When I asked the vendor for a cup of tea, he asked me “cigarette bhi chahiye kya? (do you want cigarette too?)” Flabbergasted, I said, “no, thanks!” I realise smoking is a personal choice, but it does agitate me when I see people smoking on and around college campuses.

Whatever happened to the ban of selling tobacco products within 100 yards of educational institutions? No wonder the ubiquity of tobacco around educational institutions in Indian cities has become an overriding concern these days.

Studies show that more and more younger students are lighting up in the metros and small cities as well. Small wonder, for, to the young, smoking seems to be a hip thing to do. More so to those who venerate so-called celebrities and rock stars.

In India, though advertisements of tobacco brands (including surrogate ads) are banned, youngsters watch heroes in films lighting up and get influenced.

Keval J. Kumar, a guest faculty, says, “Easy availability of tobacco, peer pressure and macho images of smokers in films do play a role in the prevalence of smoking among college students.”

Subhashini Balasundaram, a Statistics student, says, “People who smoke are doing it at their own risk. But what they do affects the non-smokers too. What’s painful to watch is students, institution officials and staff smoking together in a group. Some even smoke on college department corridors, at restrooms and parking lot.” Talking of non-smokers, there are those who feel the urge to try it, watching their friends smoke.

Susan Zachariah, a psychologist, says, “Both rural and urban areas face this problem, which points to peer pressure. Also, the pocket money a student gets can contribute to this trend.”

So how can the situation be redeemed?

Uma Maheshwari, an associate professor, says, “Schools and colleges must take thinitiative to curb the problem. For example, schools can have screenings during the assembly showcasing the hazards of smoking. Also, it would be of great help if parents spent quality time with their children, for, it will help kids differentiate between the good and the bad.”

“Strict enforcement of the ban on tobacco advertising and retailing in the vicinity of colleges are ways of curbing the problem,” says Keval.

There is concern about the increasing number of smokers and the harmful effects smoking has on them and the passive smokers. But then, this cannot stop until everyone concerned — smokers, hawkers and the State — addressed the problem.