Lighting up at 14

Teenage smoking has taken an alarming turn, with Delhi’s youngsters leading the pack.
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Updated on Feb 01, 2011 12:14 AM IST
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Hindustan Times | ByNamya Sinha, New Delhi

Childhood in the city seems to be going up in smoke, quite literally. A new survey reveals that the minimum age for smoking in Indian metropolises has gone down from 16 to 14 over the last decade, and number of youngsters indulging in smoking has almost doubled over the period. That’s not all — Delhi’s kids are the earliest beginners, beating Mumbai, Bangalore and Pune.

The survey, conducted among 3000 teenagers across metropolitan cities by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India, found that the lowest age for teenage smoking has shifted from 16 in 2001 to 14 in 2011. It also revealed that the percentage of students who reported cigarette use has gone up from 45% in 2001 to 85% in 2011, with Delhi far ahead at the drag, followed by Mumbai, Bangalore and Pune. A total of 80% of the respondents said they had smoked at least once.

Another research by Indian Journal of Community Medicine (IJMC), conducted late last year, supports the findings, revealing how 40% of student smokers first tried a cigarette or bidi at, or before, the age of 13.

The reasons for starting so early are peer pressure, a tendency to show off, stress and an increase in pocket money, say experts. “The boys try to emulate their heroes, and associate smoking with masculinity. The girls think, if boys can do it, why not us?” says Dr Gaurav Gupta, senior consultant psychiatrist, Apollo and Batra Hospitals. And, he adds, they don’t stop at cigarettes. “I have had patients as young as 13 who were admitted for marijuana de-addiction.” Dr Rahul Chandok, senior consultant psychiatrist, Fortis, says, “Another reason is irresponsible behaviour by parents. Earlier, only fathers would smoke. Now, mothers, too, have taken to the practice.”

Schools are doing all they can to curb the trend. “We conduct random checks, and conselling sessions. Even teachers are prohibited from smoking within the premises,” says Dr Usha Ram, principal, Laxman Public School. Even so, experts say anti-smoking measures need to get more stringent. “Rules apart, does anyone care to stop a school student from buying a cigarette?” asks Dr Chandok.

Confessions of a teen smoker
‘There is a paan shop near the Metro Station close to my school. Initially, I would buy chutki (mouth-freshener). Then, one day, I was with a friend, and we bought a cigarette just for fun, for Rs 5. It felt really cool. Before I knew it, it became a habit. Now, I smoke everyday while walking from the station to school. The cigarette gives me company. I spend Rs 20 a day on cigarettes. Last month, I developed a bad cough and the doctor came to know that I smoke. I made an excuse and left the clinic. I’m so scared he will tell my mother about it!’
A 14-year-old from a reputed Delhi school

Butting in big time
80% of 14 to 16-year-olds said they had tried smoking.
Every day, close to 600 teenagers begin smoking.
94% of teen smokers said they were never asked for proof of age when buying cigarettes.
The trend is higher among students who have seen their siblings or best friend smoke.
Teens who watch film characters smoke are three times as likely to do so themselves.

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