In a first, state education department has stepped in to curb the rampant consumption of tobacco among schoolchildren following an appeal issued by chief minister Devendra Fadnavis on January 31.
The campaign, called Tobacco Free Educational Institution Campaign, will run with the collaboration between a group of 60 doctors named “Maharashtra Cancer Warriors” with health department, education department, and home department. The doctors, trained at Tata Memorial hospital (TMH) in the city, will approach district collectors across the state and sensitise them about tobacco and its cancerous effects. In support, the education department will address government-run schools across the state, specially in rural pockets, about the ill-effects of tobacco consumption.
On January 31, the CM appealed to implementing authorities to take strict action against gutkha distributors, and to students to report tobacco stalls near schools under Section 6 of Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act (COTPA).
“I want you to report shops selling cigarettes, beedis, gutkha or other forms of tobacco near your schools to your principal and also write to me personally so that we can take action,” the appeal from Fadnavis said.
According to the latest Global Adult Tobacco Survey, the age of initiation into tobacco use starts from as early as 17 years in Maharashtra and nearly five million children under 15 years are addicted to tobacco in India. Dr Pankaj Chaturvedi, head of neck and head cancer department at TMH, said, “In rural areas, chewing tobacco is common and in urban pockets we notice high hookah and smoking patterns. 80 per cent shops are near educational institutes and the issue cannot be tackled by health department alone. The education department has realised for the first time that it needs to play a role.”
According to Section 6 of COTPA, 21 authorities, including school principles and police, can penalise people smoking in public. Additionally, the Food and Drug Administration has put a ban on sale and use of tobacco related products like khaini, zarda, paan masala and scented or flavoured tobacco. The home department will sensitise police officials to take stringent action against sellers and buyers of these products.
Dr Satish Pawar, director of DHS, said, “We are currently collecting cancer-related education material from Tata hospital for creating awareness. We will take the help of the education department to reach out to students.”