While we would like to believe that it is mainly young people who smoke cigarettes or “take drugs” because of peer pressure or experimentation, the reality is stark. Have we ever imagined that even our children – children in school – are also exposed to this threat at a much younger age? However, this is bitter reality. Data from numerous studies, research and surveys reveal a disturbing trend that, on average, children as young as 10 years old use tobacco products. With tobacco products on hand, they are the first step towards addiction.
Children face high risk
In recent years, the situation has only gotten worse. In 2012, the average age at which a child started using tobacco products was 12 years and three months. However, in 2019 that age dropped to 10, indicating the high risk our children are at, at an even younger age.
Some pockets of the country, like the northeastern states, particularly Mizoram and Assam, need immediate attention, where tobacco abuse may have made inroads among children as young as six.
Recently, Mansukh Mandaviya, Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare, released the National fact sheet on the Global Youth Tobacco Survey (GYTS-4), India, 2019. The report is eye-opening, highlighting the high prevalence of tobacco use among schoolchildren aged 13-15.
According to the survey results, almost a fifth of students aged 13 to 15 have used tobacco in one form or another (smoking, smokeless and other forms). However, in the last 30 days of the survey, the smoking prevalence among boys was 9.6% and 7.4% among girls. The prevalence of smoking was 7.3 percent. For smokeless tobacco products, the prevalence was 4.1%.
Need to step up efforts, equip COTPA
Clearly, our children are increasingly falling prey to the threat of tobacco. We must redouble our efforts to stem this problem before it is too late. I believe that if the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act or COTPA is well endowed with strict rules and penalties, it can be an important tool in reducing tobacco use, especially among children by restricting all tobacco use. forms of point-of-sale advertising and increasing the age at which young people can buy tobacco. Recently, some amendments have been proposed to COTPA in order to make it more efficient. However, there is opposition to these amendments from those with special interests in the ongoing tobacco trade.
The tobacco lobby has long tried to circumvent the laws, putting the lives of millions of people at risk. Tobacco companies have been instructed to prominently include statutory warnings such as âTobacco use is harmful to healthâ on their products. They circumvented these laws by advertising tobacco products in the guise of saffron, cardamom, rose and other similar materials. You may have also noticed that many tobacco companies use movie actors to entice young children to use tobacco products. You can well imagine the kind of influence it can have on a young mind when their favorite actor promotes such a product. Likewise, many tobacco companies sponsor large-scale and large-scale sporting events. All of these factors have a multiplier effect, prompting young minds to start using these products.
Having said that, I am confident that with the entry into force of the proposed changes to COTPA, such alternative activities and advertising will be considered a criminal offense and will result in strict action. These changes will also help prevent illicit trade in tobacco and other drugs across borders, including with Myanmar and Bangladesh.
The various fines provided for in many laws are too small to act as a deterrent. Imagine a fine of only Rs 200 for such a serious crime as pushing a child to smoke! I sincerely hope that the proposed changes to COTPA will result in the revision of these penalties in the relevant regulations so that the authors cannot find an escape route in the alternative regulations. I hope COTPA emerges stronger once the bill is introduced and passed in Parliament.
NCPCR calls for COTPA amendments
In addition to giving voice to strengthening COTPA, the National Commission for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (NCPCR) is working with various government departments and agencies to take responsibility for protecting our future generation from tobacco and tobacco addiction. drugs. We have taken initiatives at the school level where children can participate in such activities, understand the harms of tobacco and grow up as responsible citizens.
We have created Prahari clubs in schools, where children are supervised by Gandhi Smriti Darshan Samiti and maintain vigilance within a defined perimeter of the school. We also install cameras on school premises to monitor illegal activity. In addition, to curb the sale of non-prescription drugs and to protect children from intoxicants through the sale of cough syrups, etc., we are installing cameras in medical stores and pharmacies. The nearest police stations will monitor these activities.
As a statutory body working under the aegis of the Ministry of Women and Child Development to protect the rights of our children, the NCPCR wishes to draw attention to the urgency of combating tobacco abuse. and to create adequate controls and measures to protect our children. We believe that the COTPA amendment is an essential step that must be taken as soon as possible.
The author is president of the National Commission for the Protection of the Rights of the Child. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the position of this publication.
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