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Tobacco use rising among girls in India

The popularity of paan masala, gutka and mishri among teenage girls is expected to double the tobacco use among women in India from the current 10.8 per cent over the next five years. Sanchita Sharma reports.

delhi Updated: May 31, 2010 23:24 IST
Sanchita Sharma

The popularity of paan masala, gutka and mishri among teenage girls is expected to double the tobacco use among women in India from the current 10.8 per cent over the next five years.

Though sale of tobacco to minors is banned in India, according to a ministry of health and family welfare data, 8.3 per cent girls between 13 and 15 years said they had smoked or chewed tobacco.

Current tobacco use in adult women (ages 15-49 years) is 10.9 per cent (54 million women), as compared to 57 per cent in men, reported the National Family Health Survey-3. Of these, only 1.6 per cent women smoked cigarettes or bidis, compared to 33.5 per cent men.

Data from 10-16 year-olds from 32 schools in Delhi and Chennai published in the journal, Nicotine & Tobacco Research, in December 2009 showed that the gap between boys and girls were closing, with 4.9 per cent girls and 6.5 per cent boys using tobacco regularly.

“While the prevalence in adult women is one-fifth of men, the differences were greatly reduced between young girls and boys. Chewing tobacco remained the most common form of tobacco used, with girls more vulnerable to advertising,” said study-author Monika Arora, senior director, Hriday, an NGO working on tobacco prevention among youth.

The findings were consistent with previous reports on tobacco use.

“Tobacco consuming trends in India show a large increase in women’s consumption, particularly of oral tobacco as there is no social taboo associated with it. Its wide availability and low price — between Rs 1 and Rs 3 per pouch — make it easy to buy even for those with low disposable incomes,” said Dr Srinath Reddy, president, Public Health Foundation of India.

Tobacco is the most common preventable cause of death across the world, killing one million people in India, which is almost one-fifth of the 5.4 million tobacco deaths globally.