This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Youth Ki Awaaz. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Engaging the Youth in Tobacco Control: The Real Investment

More from Youth Ki Awaaz

By Manjusha Chatterjee:

The key to fighting the tobacco menace is engaging the youth at the forefront of the battle, with youth focused tobacco control programs as well as policies and youth-led health advocacy. According to the World Health Organization, nearly 80 percent of the all adult smokers begin before 18 years of age. In India, 5500 youth initiate smoking every day. Of 1000 teenagers smoking today, 500 will eventually die of tobacco related diseases – 250 in their middle age and 250 in their old age. The most susceptible time for initiating and experimenting with tobacco use in India is during adolescence and young adulthood, between 15-24 years of age. Estimates from the Global Tobacco Youth Survey (GYTS) show the growing concern of tobacco use by youth in both developed and developing countries. Nearly 15 % of Indian youth use tobacco in one form or the other — smoking or smokeless forms.

Tobacco is the single largest preventable cause of death world over and a growing public health concern for present and future generations. Tobacco is a cause of various non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and a risk factor for 6 of the 8 leading causes of death in the world. The burden of the tobacco epidemic is greater in developing countries. By 2030, developing countries will account for 70% of all tobacco deaths. Many of these deaths will occur during the productive years of life.

With youth tobacco use reaching epidemic proportions and the tobacco industry on the prowl aiming directly at vulnerable sections like the youth, it is imperative that youth and young adults are made conscious of the public health threat that is tobacco. Therefore, inculcating ‘refusal skills’ or the ability to say ‘No’ to tobacco offers and helping them become vigilant towards industry strategies are vital for sustaining tobacco control efforts world over. In fact, research shows that when children have the opportunity to practice saying ’No” to offers of tobacco, before the offer occurs they are much better prepared to resist such offers.

A study conducted by HRIDAY (Health Related Information Dissemination Amongst Youth) in 2008 to assess the receptivity and exposure to tobacco marketing amongst youth found that tobacco advertising is positively related to tobacco use amongst youth, especially girls. The predatory nature of tobacco marketing influences consumer behaviour and reaches out to users and potential users in an attractive and deceptive manner. Tobacco industry messages present tobacco as glamourous and ‘cool’ — giving boys a false perception of style and girls, a false sense of freedom and emancipation. Although India has banned all forms of direct and indirect advertising, promotion and sponsorship under the Indian tobacco control law, Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act (COTPA), 2003, the tobacco industry continues to employ clandestine yet aggressive ways to reach out to its target — the youth.

Apart from marketing various types and flavours of tobacco in colourful packaging, tobacco companies spend millions of rupees on sponsoring sports events, teams, and sports stars. Whether cricket or motor sporting like Formula One, these companies invest in imagery, suggesting a strong relationship between sporting excellence and tobacco use.

Tobacco companies are also harnessing the growing popularity and reach of social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. They also host promotional activities, games and videos on their company websites.

Bollywood and other regional films glamorise tobacco use on screen. Many teenagers light their first cigarette or use tobacco after watching their favourite actor smoke or use tobacco on screen. Tobacco companies also tie up with filmmakers to have their products strategically placed in movie scenes. Studies in India and across the world show a strong link between tobacco use in films and youth tobacco use.  India has been recognized and commended for becoming one of the first countries to introduce strict regulations on depiction of tobacco use in films. Yet, the film fraternity continues to violate these rulings through rampant tobacco use representations on screen and promotional materials on grounds of creative freedom.

The tobacco industry also sponsors various events like talent contests at the school and college level, bravery awards, and fashion events to enhance its social quotient.  Tobacco companies sponsor contests which often require the purchase of tobacco products to enter competitions. Prizes are attractive and include cash, gold, key chains and cars among others. In India, tobacco companies also distribute free samples of tobacco products in public places such as shopping malls, rock concerts and discos to attract new users.

To counter these powerful tactics of the tobacco industry, youth must be informed about the various dangers of tobacco use during their formative years. One successful measure in this regard has been HRIDAY’s school-based tobacco use prevention program Project MYTRI (Mobilizing Youth for Tobacco Related Initiatives in India). Project MYTRI’s two-year school intervention, based on social cognitive theory, involved four primary components including (i) classroom curricula; (ii) school posters; (iii) parent postcards; and (iv) peer-led health activism. Among its major findings, Project MYTRI concluded that the rate of current tobacco use among students who participated in the intervention program reduced by 17%  vis-à-vis students in the control schools where current tobacco use increased by 68%. As the only successful and scientifically evaluated school-based tobacco use prevention program in India, MYTRI supported the inclusion of school health programs in India’s National Tobacco Control Program (NTCP) in 2007. In fact, the recently released US Surgeon General’s Report 2012, which focuses on ‘Preventing Tobacco Use Among Youth and Youth Adults’ cites and recognizes the effectiveness of programs like  MYTRI as successful school-based multi-component tobacco interventions.

One of the key components of MYTRI was imparting life skills and peer-leadership training for youth to voice their health priorities. Youth advocacy is integral to the success of tobacco control not just in India but world over. Along with bringing in energy and creativity to the movement, youth engagement provides an opportunity to young people change social norms and affect change by voicing concerns to improve the policy environment.

For instance, youth-led advocacy efforts on banning tobacco advertising and calling for stronger pictorial health warnings have been recognized by the Government.  Youth involvement in tobacco control efforts also reinforces the need to strengthen tobacco control policies, especially restrictions on youth access to tobacco.

India’s tobacco control law — COTPA (Control of Tobacco Products Act) — includes provisions to restrict youth access to tobacco, including bans on advertising and sale to and by minors. The law also prohibits sale of tobacco within 100 yards of all educational institutions. Yet, implementation of these provisions is far from effective. Therefore, there is also a need to monitor and report such violations to law enforcers for immediate action. Engaging youth in such monitoring exercises is also important and effective.  Strategies to curb a global epidemic like tobacco use require an integrated, multi-disciplinary understanding of its varied determinants along with multi-sector interventions for a positive influence. While the success of the global tobacco control movement must be attributed to the development of a broad platform of stakeholders and the identification of specific action areas for targeted advocacy such as smoke-free public places, ban on tobacco advertising, raised tobacco taxes and effective pictorial health warnings, investing in youth engagement is central to building a sustainable movement to safeguard the health of millions at present and in the future. Protecting youth from the hazards of tobacco requires the combined effort of Government, parents, teachers, media and civil society.

WHO has announced ‘Tobacco Industry Interference’ as the theme of this year’s World No Tobacco Day’ to be observed on May 31st. Mounting evidence of a strong tobacco lobby in India and across the world serves as a clarion call to strengthen efforts for effective implementation and regulation, through coalition of stakeholder groups and the spirit of youth.


You must be to comment.

More from Youth Ki Awaaz

Similar Posts

By Alok Mishra

By Rohit Malik

By Shalaka

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below