SULTANPUR: A young child in Sultanpur Shlok Kumar (12) is barely interested in studies and he struggles to understand most of the lessons taught in his classroom. Kumar is a student of the 7th standard of a Government School in the Lambhua block of Uttar Pradesh’s Sultanpur district.
The 12-year-old consumes tobacco, despite knowing the fact that it will harm him. He is addicted to it. He smokes and can’t restrain himself when his friends are around him. He has decided to quit school as soon as he passes class 8th.
“I don’t smoke on a daily basis. When I’m with friends, we buy bidi, cigarettes from a nearby shop and smoke them. We also consume gutka sometimes,” Kumar said. “I do not feel like going to school daily. I will go to a big city like Mumbai to earn money after Class 8. I will not study further.”
A few children, as young as 9 years old start smoking and get addicted to tobacco-related products in Uttar Pradesh. As per the recent survey conducted in 2019 by Global Youth Tobacco Survey-4 (GYTS) for the state, released its report in 2022. While six years and 8 months is the median age of initiation for children to get involved in ‘bidi smoking’ in Uttar Pradesh, the average age is 10.5 years across India. Meanwhile, for cigarette smoking, the reported median age is 11.5 years, and for smokeless tobacco consumption, for instance, tobacco – the age is 9.9 years old.
The majority of school-going boys in the village of Sultanpur consume tobacco products regularly. They mostly belong to the marginalised section of the society who attend government schools. Whereas, youth from the age group of 16-20 work in construction sites, shops, and splurge their income on alcohol. Most of the youth that belong to the age group of 16-20 have dropped out after class 8th or 10th, and some of them didn’t even complete their 12th or beyond that.
The National Family Health Survey (NFHS), came to know that in Sultanpur, Uttar Pradesh, around 44.1 per cent of men and 8.4 per cent of the women aged 15 years and above consume tobacco products. Sultanpur is among the top 20 districts in the state with high use of tobacco products. The highest percentage of tobacco users among men is in Banda – 63.33 per cent – and among women, it is 26.6 per cent in Bahraich. Nationally, it is 38 per cent men and nine per cent women above 15 years.
Smoking addiction of kids
Shreyas, a 14-year-old and a student of class 7th at a government secondary school in Sultanpur’s Lambhua district, “started smoking cigarettes two-three years back” after he was offered bidi and cigarettes by friends “earning money in Mumbai and Delhi”. When his friends visit, he smokes with them – an expensive habit he cannot maintain on his own. “I can’t afford to smoke daily but I consume gutka regularly,” he said.
Dilip Maurya, a teacher at a private secondary school in Lambhua, explained the matter, “Most of the teenagers and youngsters in Sultanpur villages work in big cities like Mumbai and Delhi”. “They come here in the village after spending four-five months in cities and influence school-going kids to smoke and drink alcohol.”
Sultanpur’s tobacco consumption
As per the NFHS-5, consumption of tobacco and alcohol among women in UP is at 8.4% & 0.3%. Whereas for men, it is 44.1% for tobacco products and 14.6% for alcohol consumption. However, alcohol consumption in women is lower (0.1%) compared to women. NFHS-5 fieldwork for Uttar Pradesh was conducted from January 2020 to April 2021 and information was gathered from 70,710 households, 93,124 women, and 12,043 men. In Sultanpur, 922 households, 1,282 women, and 133 men were surveyed.
Ram Jatan Yadav, Principal, Government Primary School Dadri, Lambhua says, “We teach good moral lessons to our students in morning prayers. We educate them about the ill effects of bad habits like smoking. We are trying our best to create awareness among students about the health hazards of smoking and alcohol addiction.”
Dr Radha Vallabh, additional chief medical officer (ACMO), Sultanpur said, “We regularly hold awareness campaigns to make students aware of the ill-effects of smoking and tobacco products. We will intensify our awareness campaign in the coming months.”
“We are promoting campaigns against smoking in our schools and teaching our students not to consume tobacco products,” added Ram Bahadur Varma, block education officer (BEO), Dostpur. “During school prayer meetings, we teach them good manners. Many students do not come to school regularly due to some situations at their homes.”