In a worrying trend, more students in the age group 10-14 are taking to smoking and girls are increasingly getting hooked to the habit, said an NGO Thursday two days before a ban on smoking in public places completes two years.
Hriday-Shan, an NGO working on tobacco control in schools, said that many students across schools (public and private) from Class 6-8 have taken up smoking and chewing tobacco and the male-female ratio is marginal.
"We did a group-randomised tobacco intervention trial wherein 14.7 percent of girls and 21.1 percent of boys reported ever-use of tobacco. We can see a closing gap between the two genders," said Radhika Shrivastav,deputy director, Hriday-Shan.
"A project of ours called Mobilising Youth for Tobacco-Related Initiatives in India showed that adult men in India have an 11.6 times higher prevalence of tobacco use compared with adult women (as per WHO's 2005 report)... whereas boys have only a 1.3 times higher prevalence than girls," added Shrivastav.
For 13-year-old Geetika Mridul (name changed) from Modern School, Barakhamba Road, it was peer pressure that pushed her to take up smoking.
"My girl friends were smoking cigarettes and I wanted to be a part of the group. They made it a prestige issue. I know the repercussions when my parents find about this habit and I am sacred too," Mridul told IANS.
The reasons cited in the report for the narrowing of gender gap and girls taking up smoking at a young age are "factors such as stress, social networking, and advertisements that falsely relate smoking and weight loss," said the report.
According to Shrivastav, the study showed that the public school students are addicted to beedis and gutkas instead of cigarettes as they are the cheaper options.
Ritu Kumar (name changed) from a government school in Laxmi Nagar area in east Delhi is 10 years old. Kumar has seen her parents smoke beedi.
"I stole my father's beedi once to show it off to my friends. One of them asked me to smoke it which I refused, so they asked me to try gutka by calling it a pan masala. The taste was very bitter. But I started liking it after having it a couple of times. It's cheap and easily available," Kumar told IANS.