Catch them young, is the new mantra for tobacco control in India.
After the successful implementation of 85% pictorial warnings on tobacco products, the government is taking steps to discourage smoking.
On the occasion of World No Tobacco Day, health minister J.P. Nadda said that the ministry will work toward sensitising schoolchildren about harmful effects of tobacco.
“Through this we will not only prevent people from getting tobacco addiction, but also make adults quit. The child can pressurise family members to leave tobacco," said Nadda.
The focus on children is backed by scientific evidence. “Children in age group 10-15 years are most impressionable. It is the most vulnerable stage for any type of addiction," said Pramod Jog, president, Indian Academy of Pediatrics, a national forum for child specialists in India
On the occasion, the minister also launched tobacco quitline, a telephone helpline for people wanting to quit smoking. Quitline and its content has been designed by Vallabhbhai Patel Chest Institute, New Delhi. It follows the World Health Organisation’s guidelines for such helpline.
“The initial call has to be made by the person who wants to quit. It will be followed by four pro-active calls by trained counselors," said Raj Kumar, faculty at VPCI who has led the initiative. He said that as part of the pilot project, his department has trained 16 counselors. “We have started work from 8 am to 8 pm with six telephone lines. The capacity will increase with demand," he said.
India has 275 million tobacco users. Nearly 206 million consume smokeless tobacco and 111 million smoke tobacco. It is considered as one of the main reasons for non-communicable diseases like cancer and pulmonary disorders.
The WHO and other civil society organizations like Public Health Foundation of India and HRIDAY, said that the government should push for plain packaging of cigarette packets. After implementation of 85% of pictorial warning on tobacco products, this is the next step to reduce tobacco consumption in India.
“In plain packaging, area other than the warning picture will be of same shade for all brands. This will make them less attractive and hence discourage consumption," said Monica Arora, Director of Health Promotion Division at PHFI.
However, Tobacco Institute of India, the lobby group for Indian tobacco industry, said that plain packaging proposal has been orchestrated by foreign anti-tobacco organizations. “If adopted in India, it will not help reduce tobacco consumption. It will only destroy the legal industry and Indian tobacco farmers by providing a further boost to illegal trade," said a statement by TII. It added that the thrust of plain packaging will only be on the domestic legal cigarettes, which account for mere 11% of the total tobacco consumed in India.