Witnessing an increasing trend among youngsters of chewing gutkha, an education officer is focusing on weeding out tobacco from government schools. In Mumbai’s northern suburbs, intensive awareness about cancer and fight against tobacco is being spread in at least 517 schools.
“My father used to consume tobacco and he was diagnosed with oral tumour. Doctors asked him to quit,” says Dr Mushtaq Shaikh, the education inspector for secondary schools in Mumbai (North). He has tied up with an NGO to sensitise schoolteachers under his jurisdiction to raise awareness in their respective schools.
In the 517 schools of the north region, from Kurla to Mulund and Mankhurd, in the last one week, 350 teachers have been trained on tobacco control. Another 100 would be trained in the coming days. Oral cancer accounts for 30 per cent of the entire cancer burden in the country. Health experts claim that youngsters are getting attracted to cigarettes and gutkha through paan shops that sell loose cigarettes and tobacco products.
Fortunately, Shaikh’s father’s tumour was not cancerous. “But I see children in younger age groups suffering from oral cancer,” he said. Between 2013 and 2017, he worked as an education officer in primary schools in Pune during which he underwent training on tobacco control. In Pune, 300 schools were sensitised under him to fight against tobacco consumption.
The 43-year-old education inspector has taken help from Salaam Bombay Foundation volunteers to conduct training workshops for his teachers in six wards of north Mumbai. “Teachers will be told about tobacco consumption and how it can cause cancer. They will be trained to hold classes and discuss this with students and parents. I am seeing more and more secondary school students indulging in tobacco chewing,” Shaikh said.
Children in slums also see their parents consume tobacco, making it a household activity. Tobacco initiation, Shaikh added, starts from as early as 15 years. Education officers in Mumbai north region will routinely visit the 517 schools to ensure teachers are holding sensitisation sessions with students. Last month, the Union Health Ministry wrote to all state governments to ensure that shops selling tobacco products are not selling biscuits, candies or chocolates. The civic bodies were instructed to issue licenses to tobacco sellers and ensure they do not sell any non-tobacco product in their shops. The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015, bans the sale of tobacco products to minors with punishment up to seven years. Candy shops lure minors into trying tobacco.
In addition, the Cigarette and Other Tobacco Products Act, 2003, mandates that tobacco shops are not within 100 yards of any educational institution. According to Dr Pankaj Chaturvedi, a head and neck oncosurgeon, the Centre’s notification is an innovative move to discourage tobacco sale. “Currently, shopkeepers purposefully store these products that lure kids to get exposed to tobacco and some of them tend to start using tobacco. Such an action will prevent the mushrooming of shops and shrewd marketing of tobacco to kids,” he said.