The lives of school children are being stained with nicotine.
After a recent study found that a fourth of the municipal schoolchildren in Mumbai consume tobacco in some form or the other, a week-long survey, conducted in the end of April by NGO Salaam Bombay on the sale of tobacco products around 200 city schools, has thrown up more disturbing statistics.
The survey shows that 61% schools had shops within 100 yards of its premises selling tobacco products; 30% of the shops didn’t have a licence and 87% didn’t have any pictorial and textual warning on the packets. With May 31 to be observed as No Tobacco Day, these findings are even more shameful.
Devika Chadha, programme director, Salaam Bombay Foundation, says, “The survey clearly shows that tobacco products like gutkha, bidis and cigarettes are abundantly and easily available for the children.”
The survey included BMC schools, government-aided schools and a few private schools from various parts of the city.
“We have found a total of 307 shops selling tobacco products operating within 100 yards of 122 schools. Among these shops that flouted the COPTA law, 202 were permanent ones and 105 were temporary, which can be wrapped up whenever the owner wants,” adds Chadha.
According to experts, a number of factors influence children and teenagers to consume tobacco. “Adult tobacco users in the family, peers, the need to experiment are some of the factors that influence children to take up the habit. There are certain underlying emotional and psychological factors as well,” says Dr Seema Hingorany, child psychologist. “Children get influenced by the aggressive marketing strategies adopted by the tobacco companies too. Hence, it’s better to have a preventive approach, i.e. to stop the sale of tobacco products around educational institutions.”
Dr Pankaj Chaturvedi, associate professor and head and neck cancer surgeon at Tata Memorial hospital, says, “In India, the average age at which children start smoking is 16, while the average age at which they start consuming chewable tobacco products, like gutkha, is 8-12. In the latter, mouth cancer develops in 10-15 years. We are getting many people in their 30s who have mouth cancer. We need to save our children’s future.”
The fact that 92 shops operating within 100 yards of schools didn’t have a licence for selling tobacco products is startling as well.
“While these shops continued to sell the products, 87% of them didn’t have the compulsory warning board on tobacco,” says Chadha. “Also, 79% sold paan masala, 86% sold bidis and 97% sold cigarettes.” The survey also revealed that 94% shops sold supari, 81% sold khaini and 73% sold gutkha.
Chadha adds, “It is disappointing to see that even though there are comprehensive laws in our country for protecting children from tobacco, due to ineffective implementation, they aren’t helpful in the least.”
Dr Anil Bandiwadekar, executive health officer, BMC, said, “We have instructed the superintendent of licence to take necessary action. We are also sensitising the shopkeepers on laws on sale of tobacco products. This will take time, but there will be something in place before schools reopen.”
61% schools had shops within 100 yards of its premises selling tobacco products
30% of the shops didn't have a licence
87% didn't have any pictorial and textual warning on the packets