Although the sale of tobacco products to minors is prohibited under the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act 2003 (COPTA), nearly 5.1% of the 3,765 students surveyed aged 13-15 in 35 state schools are high tobacco users, Global Youth Tobacco Survey-4 (GYTS-4) found.
The survey was conducted as part of a national survey conducted by the International Institute of Population Sciences (IIPS) under the auspices of the Department of Health and Family Welfare in 2019. This is the first time a state GYTS has been conducted in India as part of the Global Tobacco Surveillance System.
Under Section 6 of COPTA, no tobacco product may be sold to and by anyone under the age of 18. In addition, the sale of tobacco products is prohibited within 100 meters of any educational establishment.
In violation of these rules, 63% of cigarette smokers and 70% of bidi smokers bought the products from a shop, paan shop, street vendor or vending machines. Among the children surveyed, 30% of cigarette smokers and 43% of bidi smokers declared that they had not been refused the intoxicant by the seller despite their status as minors.
Furthermore, a glaring gender gap has been observed in the supply of cigarettes. Compared to 57.4% of boys, 77.2% of girls bought cigarettes. Indeed, compared to boys, fewer girls were refused tobacco products on the grounds that they were underage.
R Nagarajan, professor of development studies, said: “Gender differences (1.8% boys and 0.9% girls) among cigarette users are less. When we do an in-depth analysis of the data, we will better understand why more girls bought cigarettes from stores.
The survey showed that 20 per cent of students – 28 per cent boys and 7 per cent girls – had tried to quit in the past 12 months when the survey took place. Dr Rajesh Dikshit, director of the Cancer Epidemiology Centre, spoke of the need for a child-specific quit smoking helpline and said school staff can be used to raise awareness the public.
In addition, 7.8% and 22% of children surveyed were exposed to passive smoking at home and in indoor public places, respectively. “It not only causes health problems, but can intrigue children enough to start smoking,” Dr. Dikshit said.