In 2019, 8.5% of Indian adolescents, 13- to 15-year-olds, consumed tobacco in any form, according to the latest data from the Ministry of Health Family Welfare. This is a drop from 2003, when nearly 17% did so, showed the government’s Global Youth Tobacco Survey, which has been conducted three times since then.
The 2019 survey, conducted by the International Institute for Population Sciences, under the Ministry of Health Family Welfare, included responses from over 80,772 adolescents from 987 public and private schools.
On World No-Tobacco Day on May 31, we give you an overview of the use of tobacco in Indian adolescents.
Children are introduced to tobacco early. The median age for introduction to cigarettes was 11.5 years, while it was 10.5 years for bidis and 9.9 years for smokeless tobacco.
In 2019, more adolescents smoked cigarettes (2.6%) as compared to bidis (unfiltered, hand-rolled cigarettes), used by 2.1%, the data show. The most common is smokeless tobacco, such as in paan masala, or other tobacco products, used by 4.1% of those surveyed.
More boys than girls use tobacco, but the proportion of boys using tobacco has fallen from 21.6% in 2003 to 9.6% in 2019.
Tobacco can cause several kinds of cancer and also act as a trigger for cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, chronic lung infections, vision and hearing loss and dental issues, according to Vijay Aditya Yadaraju, radiation oncologist at HCG Cancer Hospital in Visakhapatnam. He added that cigarette smoking increases the risk of oral cancer by 10 times compared to non-smokers.
Nicotine dilates blood vessels, leading to increased blood supply in the brain, heart and other vital organs, making the drug addictive and increasing the risk of triggering cardiovascular diseases, said Tejinder Singh, a senior medical oncologist at Apollo Hospital in Navi Mumbai.
Factors affecting use
The states where the highest proportion of adolescents use tobacco are Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh, followed by Nagaland and Meghalaya. The lowest use is in Himachal Pradesh, followed by Karnataka and Goa.
Tobacco use has decreased in India as a result of moderate tobacco control measures, such as bans on tobacco advertising and high taxation on tobacco and its products, according to a 2021 study published in the Journal of Public Health. Yet, tobacco use is more common among middle-aged adults, the less educated and those who live in rural and tobacco-growing areas.
A lack of awareness about the hazards of tobacco also significantly affects tobacco use, found a 2014 study, published in PLOS ONE, using data from the Global Adult Tobacco Survey. The study also said that adults from a poorer household have a significantly higher risk of consuming smokeless tobacco.
This article first appeared on IndiaSpend, a data-driven and public-interest journalism non-profit.