Nearly 15 years after it was outlawed, the practice of selling cigarettes and tobacco products near schools continues unhindered across cities, says a new report.
Titled Tiny Targets, the report is based on a survey carried out near 243 schools in 20 cities of six states to show how tobacco companies and local sellers adopt clever tactics to lure school children, many of them first-time smokers.
For instance, in 91% cases, tobacco displays were positioned at students' eye level; in 54% of cases tobacco displays had no health warnings and 90% of tobacco products were displayed beside candy, sweets or toys.
The commonest selling tactic was to sell single cigarettes. Other incentives included price discount (37.5% cases), distributing free tobacco products (32.5%) and offering special or limited edition packs (12.5% cases), according to the survey carried out by two non-government outfits – Voluntary Health Association of India (VHAI) and Consumer Voice.
“We did the survey in 2017 when our investigators monitored 487 points of sale around schools and found 225 were selling tobacco to the school children in violation of the law. The commonest of them were street vendors (132), followed by mobile vendors (41), small grocery (32) and kiosks (26),” Bhavna B Mukhopadhyay, chief executive of VHAI, told DH after releasing the findings on Wednesday.
Way back in 2003, India became one of the first countries to enact legislation for tobacco control and one of the sections of the law bans the sale of tobacco too (and by) minors, besides prohibiting its sale within 100 yards of educational institutions.
Due to poor adherence on the ground, the Union Health Ministry in 2017 proposed granting special licences to shops selling tobacco with the condition that such shops shall not sell non-tobacco products like toffees, candies, chips, biscuits and soft drinks, dear to children. The licenses are to be issued by the local municipal authorities.
Teen tobacco users
While the response to the health ministry's proposal has been poor, according to the Global Youth Tobacco Survey 2016-17, 14.6% of 13-15-year-old students in India use tobacco. As many as 11% of all male students surveyed were found to be users of smoking or smokeless tobacco, while 6% of female students used smokeless tobacco and 3.7% smoked tobacco.
The cities covered are: Chennai, Coimbatore, Pudukkottai, Hyderabad, Mahbubnagar, Karimnagar, Warangal, Jamnagar, Rajkot, Morbi, Ahmedabad, Indore, Bhopal, Sagar, Jabalpur, Gwalior, New Delhi, Guwahati, Dibrugarh and Jorhat.