EDUCATION PLUS

Tobacco-free campus: a healthy rule

RAMYA KANNAN

As more and more educational institutions are voluntarily declaring themselves tobacco-free campuses, the message of the health hazards of smoking is reaching to the student community.

As of last count, there were about 840 educational institutions that had declared themselves tobacco-free.

It is being acknowledged that Tamil Nadu has had among the best responses to the ban on smoking in public places that was introduced in the country in last Octobe

r. In no small measure is this attributable to the intensity with which educational institutions took it up.

As of last count, there were about 840 educational institutions that had declared themselves tobacco-free.

This included the first 33 such institutions (schools and colleges) in Chennai. A total of 798 institutions were soon convinced or volunteered to declare themselves as tobacco-free campuses, the majority of them being schools.

Only 74 colleges in Tamil Nadu have joined the movement, with a large number of schools signing up. “This is probably because it is easier for school managements to impose rules that are meant to be followed on campus, than in colleges,” opines E. Vidhubala, co-ordinator, Tobacco Cessation Centre, Cancer Institute, Adyar.

However, Anna University and a large number of its affiliated colleges are significant members. Seven dental colleges have also joined the band wagon, according to Ms. Vidhubala.

Voluntary

“The effort has been, by and large, voluntary. In some cases peer pressure has worked. In fact there might even be more schools out there that are now tobacco-free but may not have registered with us,” says T.S. Selvavinayagam, State Tobacco Control Officer.

As part of the programme, Tobacco Control Task Force units have been started in universities, colleges and schools in Tamil Nadu and about 30 peer counsellors participate from each college.

There is no underestimating the importance of stressing the anti-tobacco messages to youngsters in schools and colleges.

The idea is to catch them early, considering the documented evidence that weighs in favour of getting children to stay away from the tobacco habit as early as possible in life.

Young smokers

Union Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss has said a recent World Health Organisation study had shown that 14.1 per cent of school-going children in India smoke and 15.1 per cent of students not smoking currently will take up the habit the next year. Again, 22 per cent of their teachers also smoke.

Other studies had shown that smoking in films was a major factor in influencing children to take up smoking, the Minister has added.

“We are taking up 10 zones in the city and 20 institutions to survey the attitudes and awareness in these places and among shop keepers about the awareness and practice of the Tobacco Control Act,” Ms. Vidhubala explains. Also underway is a project to remove shops selling tobacco and tobacco products from within 100 metres of any educational institution, as per the law.

Implementation

“If we consider a loose definition of educational institution to include training institutes, computer training institutions, day care centres and the like, then implementing the law itself will make Chennai a tobacco-sale free city. There are so many educational institutions in the city!” Ms. Vidhubala says. In colleges where the petty shops have been removed, observers have noted that crowds of students who gather for a smoke have melted away, reducing incidences of eve teasing and harassment too.

However, women’s colleges are still unwilling to take the ban seriously as they feel it is irrelevant to them. The indications, though, are on the contrary.

Statistics show that an increasing number of women are taking up using tobacco – smoking and chewing. Health officials feel that there should be no exceptions to the rule and that tobacco usage must be nipped in the bud.



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