Tobacco sales rampant near educational institutions, says RCC study

Thiruvananthapuram, Nov 17 – More than a half of the high school and higher secondary school students surveyed found illegal tobacco sales near their educational institutions, according to a study carried out in the district’s rural areas by the Regional Cancer Centre (RCC) here.

An alarming 60 per cent of students in the higher secondary group (HSS) and 52 per cent in the high school (HS) group reported tobacco sales in the study, which covered 1,114 students across 10 random Government schools.   

The study, “Tobacco and Alcohol Use and the Impact of School Based Anti-tobacco Education for Knowledge Enhancement among Adolescent Students of Rural Kerala, India”, conducted in 2014-15 has been published in a recent edition of the peer-reviewed ‘Journal of Addiction’.  It points to the inadequate enforcement of the ban on sale of tobacco products around 100 yards of educational institutions, as mandated the Indian tobacco control law, COTPA, 2003.

RCC Director Dr Paul Sebastian, the study’s principal investigator and co-author, said, “Limited information on tobacco use among adolescents in rural Kerala triggered this study. The high prevalence of tobacco sales near educational institutions is worrisome as tobacco use initiated during adolescence often emerges as a major risk factor for non-communicable diseases in adulthood.”

“It is important to identify the source of tobacco product sales near institutions.  Regular checks and multi-pronged strategies to prohibit availability of these products are critical,” added Dr Sebastian, who is also the Chairman of Tobacco Free Kerala.

The study reports that 4.3 per cent of the students covered were ‘current tobacco users’, viz, a person who used tobacco three days or more a week.  A higher 7.4 per cent were ‘ever users’ or persons who have used tobacco at least once during the academic year under analysis.

Cigarette smoking was the predominant habit followed by gutkha use and then by beedi smoking among ‘ever users’.  Also, 63 per cent of the members of an ever user’s household had consumed tobacco in one form or another.

Dr R. Jayakrishnan of RCC and the principal author of the study said, “A questionnaire was used to elicit information from the students through self-reporting.  Participation in the study was purely voluntary and complete anonymity for the information provided was assured.”

“Other than tobacco sales, students were also asked about habits of family members, knowledge of tobacco hazards and the tobacco control law in India. A wider sample study would be desirable under the circumstances,” he added while expressing concern about the high prevalence of tobacco use among family members of surveyed students.

Two-thirds of respondents were unaware of the presence of tar and nicotine in tobacco, the study points out.

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