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More students aged 13-15 using tobacco, concludes study

Ramya Kannan
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Second phase of Global Youth Tobacco Survey carried out

The percentage of students aged 13-15 years using tobacco is only increasing, despite better information on the dangers of smoking, the second phase of the Global Youth Tobacco Survey has concluded.

The study, set in two phases (the first was completed in 2006), observed a total of 24,000 students in about 180 schools categorised into six geographical regions – Northern, Central, Eastern, North Eastern, Western, and Southern. The percentage of use of tobacco products in that age group rose from 13.7 in 2006 to 14.6 in 2009. This includes smoking cigarettes, beedis, and use of chewable tobacco.

Individually too, the percentage of users of cigarettes, beedis and smokeless tobacco products has increased among boys mostly, pushing up the average. It has, however, seen a marginal drop in use among girls, from 9.4 per cent to 8.3 per cent, according to authors V. Gajalakshmi and C.V. Kanimozhi in the September issue of the journal Tobacco Use Insights.

The GYTS was carried out in the first half of 2006, and from May to July of 2009, selecting 30 schools (different schools during both years) in each region to participate.

Significantly, the percentage of boys under ten years who pick up smoking beedis first has gone up. Since 2006, it has increased by 19.5 percentage points. The same rise among girls in the age group is not so steep, and yet significant, as it has climbed 9.3 percentage points from 2006 to 2009. Dr. Gajalakshmi says beedi-smoking is clearly associated with rural areas, while picking cigarettes first is an urban phenomenon.

Comparatively, first cigarette use has marginally dropped among boys and significantly under ten years (by nearly 20 percentage points) among girls. Seen together with the fact that a higher percentage of students reported that they were taught about the dangers of smoking (over 63 per cent), the fall in cigarette use could be attributed to introduction of awareness programmes at the school level.

Prasanna Kannan, State consultant on Tobacco Control, says: “Awareness creation has a significant effect on habit creation, we have realised in our efforts in Tamil Nadu. Emphasising the health-effects of tobacco use has a definite deterrence effect. If beedi use is increasing, obviously we need to renew our efforts in campaigning in rural areas, and different tools will also have to be used.”

The GYTS is an initiative launched jointly by the Tobacco Free Initiative, UNICEF, WHO, and the Office on Smoking and Health in Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to assess smoking and smokeless tobacco use among 13-15-year-olds. The GYTS in 2006 has generated baseline data that will then be used to compare prevalence in repeat surveys done over time. It also aims at understanding and assessing students' knowledge, behaviour towards tobacco use and its impact on health.

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