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NCPCR Chief underscores urgency to implement anti-tobacco laws to protect children

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By NS Desk 06-Sep-2021

New Delhi, Sep 6 (IANS) In a country, where more than a million people die every year due to tobacco related diseases, it is essential that we save our future generations from the fast-spreading tentacles of tobacco usage.

Numerous studies, researches, and surveys reveal that tobacco usage among children is the first step towards addiction. What is more disturbing is that on an average children, as young as 12-13 year old, are using tobacco products such as cigarettes, bidis etc, that are easily within their reach. In a survey of adolescent girls, it was found that 72 per cent of the girls were used to consuming tobacco.

The problem of children using tobacco has worsened over the years, as from 12 years 3 months in 2012, the average age when children begin using tobacco products has dropped to 10 years in 2019 – a drop of more than 2 years in a span of 7 years. The situation is particularly grim in the north-eastern states, especially Mizoram, where the youngest tobacco users were found to be just 6 years old!

A National Fact Sheet on Global Youth Tobacco Survey (GYTS-4), India, 2019, released by Mansukh Mandaviya, Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare, last month highlighted the high prevalence of tobacco consumption among school going children aged 13-15 years.

According to the Survey findings, nearly one-fifth of the students aged 13-15 used tobacco in one form or the other (smoking, smokeless, and other forms) in their lives. Prevalence of tobacco use among boys was 9.6 per cent and among girls was 7.4 per cent. The prevalence of smoking tobacco was 7.3 per cent. In case of smokeless tobacco product, the prevalence was 4.1 per cent.

Tobacco is the first step towards addiction. Therefore, it is essential that COTPA be well-equipped to curb the usage of tobacco especially among children. "COTPA can be an important tool in protecting our children from the rising menace of addiction," says Priyank Kanoongo, Chairperson, NCPCR, who feels that the proposed amendments to COTPA will make it more effective.

Kanoongo, who was delivering the keynote address in the virtual panel discussion around National Fact Sheet on Global Youth Tobacco Survey (GYTS-4), India, 2019, singled out the tobacco lobby for circumventing the laws by advertising tobacco products under the garb of saffron, cardamom and other such materials. He also drew attention to tobacco companies sponsoring sports events and using film actors to entice young children into using tobacco products. However, with the proposed amendments to COTPA coming into effect, such activities and surrogate advertisements will be considered an offence and can attract penal action.

The amendments to COTPA will help prevent the illicit trade of tobacco and other drugs at the borders, especially with Myanmar and Bangladesh. It will also ensure protection of street children who are the most vulnerable to addiction. In fact, street children have gone beyond tobacco consumption and have switched over to inhalants.

It is estimated that the number of children using inhalants is 1.1 per cent higher than the adults. It has come to light that for Rs 100 worth of plastic bottles that rag picking children sell, traders involved in the scrap business pay only Rs 30 in cash and the rest Rs 70 as inhalants.

Amendments to COTPA and social boycott of such traders can help protect young children from falling prey to the vicious cycle of addiction.

NCPCR, numerous ministries, and government bodies are collaborating to shoulder the responsibility of protecting our future generation from addiction to tobacco and other drugs.

Prahari Clubs at schools that are mentored by Gandhi Smriti Darshan Samiti, installing cameras at school premises to monitor illicit activities, and installing cameras at medical stores and pharmacies to curb sale of Scheduled drugs without prescription, are some of the initiatives that are being piloted.

Dr Rajdeep Roy, BJP MP from Assam and a medical surgeon, emphasised on the need for a holistic approach to curb tobacco usage. He shared that in the north-eastern states, children as young as 5-6 years old are seen smoking bidis instead of going to school.

"We need to tackle this problem. The government can bring in regulations that are supported by medical experts and vetted by people who can vouch that introduction of such rules can curb tobacco usage." Dr Roy observed that although COTPA 2003 had discouraged tobacco usage, there is still a lot that needs to be done. He called out the tobacco lobby for pressurising manufacturing and encouraging usage of tobacco. He called upon these companies to be more responsible and not destroy the future generation of the country.

Dr Roy is hopeful that doctors in Parliament across party lines will be supportive of the proposed amendments to COTPA when the bill is presented in the Parliament for discussion. "We are committed to bringing in good laws that will help protect our future generation and patients, as well as are good for the industry," he added.

At present, there is negligible awareness about the COTPA guidelines, which enables the tobacco lobby to muffle the discussions around the subject and dilute the efforts. "Even the media has long downplayed the issues that children face," observed Manoj Verma, Senior Journalist, Lok Sabha. However, continued discussions such as this webinar, hosted by Arun Anand, Author and Journalist, and conducted in the context of the recently published GYTS Fact Sheet can help spread awareness at a wider scale to protect our children from the use of tobacco and make India tobacco-free.

--IANS

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