| TOO EARLY
New Delhi, Feb. 16: A new wave of increased tobacco use is sweeping across urban India, portending early addiction, longer lifetime use and growing rates of cancer and cardiovascular diseases, a new study has revealed.
Medical researchers surveyed 11,600 students in 32 schools in Delhi and Chennai and came to a “disturbing” result ' students of Class VI are consuming more tobacco than Class VIII students.
The study found that 25 per cent of sixth graders (average age of 11 years) and 9 per cent of eighth graders had experimented with tobacco, while 7 per cent of sixth graders and 3 per cent of eighth graders were routine users.
“Frankly, we never expected we’d see something like this,” said Dr K. Srinath Reddy, head of cardiology at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences and a member of the Indo-US research team that carried out the study.
“Across all categories ' private schools, government schools, boys and girls ' and in both cities, the younger students consumed more tobacco than older students.”
The study, published in this week’s issue of The Lancet, found that sixth-graders used tobacco at two to four times the rate that eighth-graders did.
“Younger people appear more exposed to tobacco pressures,” Reddy said. “It’s disturbing and demands urgent action.”
The researchers said the findings are important to public health because early use of tobacco suggests a greater likelihood of addiction and higher rates of lung cancer.
The study cited a government report on tobacco control estimating that the proportion of all deaths that can be attributed to tobacco use is expected to rise from 1.4 per cent in 1990 to 13 per cent in 2020.
Reddy said enforcement of anti-tobacco initiatives should cover oral tobacco products, which are easier to procure and consume as well as difficult to detect. The study also found that Class VI students had “greater intentions to use tobacco in the future”.
Despite control policies and legislation, the tobacco industry is employing new steps to “counteract” the effects of policy changes, the study said.
While legislation that prohibits all direct and indirect advertising of tobacco products, smoking in public places and sale of tobacco to people younger than 18 was passed in 2003, its enforcement is “taking time”, Reddy said.
In their report in Lancet, the researchers have pointed out how one tobacco company positioned air-conditioned lorries ' mobile smoking lounges ' outside shopping malls and sports stadiums for people to sit and smoke in comfort.
While the legislation does allow point of sale advertisements, anti-tobacco activists have claimed that companies have exploited this rule to place extra-large signboards displaying tobacco products.