SHILLONG, May 15: The Achik Indigenous Justice Initiative Forum (AIJIF) has called for a total ban on smokeless tobacco in Meghalaya and has petitioned the Chief Minister of Meghalaya, Dr. Mukul Sangma to ensure the same.
In the petition sent to the Chief Minister on Monday, AIJIF director, Alex Sangma called for Dr. Sangma’s attention to the menace of smokeless tobacco products such as gutka and pan masala and the repercussions of the same on the youth and children of Meghalaya.
Citing figures of the National Family Health Survey Alex said that particularly in Meghalaya, the study represents results for a sample of 46,112 school going children of ages 13 to 15 years in Meghalaya. The school response rate was 96% (24/25) and students’ response rate was 84.7% (2080/2455) respectively. Among 2080 respondents, 52.8% were boys and 47.2% were girls.
Ever tobacco use was reported by 53.9% (boys 63.2%, girls 43.7%, with 67.7% users reporting initiation at 10 years of age or earlier. Current use of tobacco (any product) was reported by 43.9% (54.7% boys, 32.0% girls). Current smokeless tobacco use was reported by 35.3% (43.0% boys, 26.8% girls), whereas smoking was reported by 21.4% (32.1% boys, 9.9% girls). Current cigarette smoking was reported by 11.6% (16.5% boys, 6.5% girls,. Smokeless tobacco use in the form of chewing was reported by 55.2% (62.1% boys, 47.7% girls) and applying by 22.9% (28% boys, 17.6% girls). Chewing was mainly in the form of gutka (19.4%), tamol (betel nuts) with tobacco (9.2%, >80% boys) and tamol without tobacco (21%). Tobacco was applied by 18.2% as tobacco toothpaste and 3.9% as red toothpowder. Six out of ten cigarette smokers (60%) and over one third smokeless tobacco users (38.5%) reported needing tobacco first thing in the morning. This dependence was over four times more common among smokeless tobacco user boys (51.5%) than smokeless tobacco user girls (11.8%) although it was similar in cigarette smoking boys (62.3%) and girls (54.5%).
He also said that there are several recent reports, predicting an increase in oral cancer incidence in India while adding, “This prediction is based upon the observation of an increasing prevalence of oral submucous fibrosis, especially in younger individuals, caused by industrially manufactured smokeless tobacco products.”
While pointing out that the Supreme Court has directed the Centre and state governments to strictly enforce regulations banning gutka and pan masala, Alex claimed that the areas bordering Assam in Meghalaya has become a hub for storage and supply of these gutka products illegally to different places in Assam.
In this backdrop, the AIJIF has urged Dr. Sangma to ‘ake cognizance of such imperative menace which has endangered the future of our state by victimizing school going children and college youths of our state’.