The Maharashtra government is going all out to ensure that the future of the state is protected from a raging tobacco epidemic.The government wants to ensure that youngsters are taught about the harmful health effects of tobacco at a nearly age.To this end, the Maharashtra State Bureau of Textbook Production and Curriculum Research, popularly known as Balbharati, has included a chapter on tobacco control in the Class 10 SSC Science II textbook for the academic year. Earlier, they had taken the initiative to introduce tobacco control and awareness through the science textbook in standards 5,6,7,9 and 10.
The timing could not have been more perfect. Balbharati’s move comes at a time when some extremely alarming tobacco-related statistics are threatening to ruin the future of the country. Children in India are particularly vulnerable to tobacco use. Every 16 seconds, a child in India tries tobacco for the first time. This means that every day, 5,500 Indian children try tobacco for the first time – up to one third of these are under the age of 10.14.6% of youth aged 13 to 15 years currently use tobacco products. 15.5% of youth who do not smoke are likely to initiate smoking in the next year. By the time these children reach adulthood, one in two men and one in five women will use tobacco regularly.The issue is costing the ex-chequer dearly too. The costs of this national epidemic places a crippling burden on not only individuals but also the national economy to the tune of Rs 7,320 crore per year,25% of all healthcare spending.
While the numbers pose a worrying picture, the upside is that numerous studies have shown that children who resist tobacco before the age of 18 are likely to remain tobacco-free for the rest of their lives. The Maharashtra government, along with organizations like Salaam Mumbai Foundation, are working in exactly this direction to ensure that children are provided with critical information about the ill effects of tobacco usage while they are still in school.
In doing so, the government is also crediting organizations like Salaam Mumbai Foundation for spearheading tobacco control and awareness in ZP schools for the last ten years. Salaam Mumbai Foundation is the rural outreach programme of Salaam Bombay Foundation started in 2007 to create a tobacco-free Maharashtra. In order to create meaningful impact in rural communities on a large scale, Salaam Mumbai Foundation has harnessed the capacity of state and local institutions, both government and non-government. These include Zilla Parishad schools, village health workers, aanganwadi and other public health workers appointed by the state government, gram panchayats, local NGOs, block and district level education officers and other local influencers. The organization’s efforts have borne fruit with 4,543 schools across Maharashtra becoming tobacco free. Salaam Mumbai Foundation’s programme runs in schools in 30 districts of Maharashtra, out of which all the primary schools in the two districts of Yavatmal and Wardha have been declared tobacco-free.
Speaking about the development, Mr. Rajiv Patole, Special officer, Science Department, Balbharati, said, “Tobacco has been affecting the lives of so many people including children and youngsters. It is of utmost importance that they are made aware of the ill-effects from a young age.We want teachers to impart this knowledge to their students and we are very happy to collaborate with organizations like Salaam Mumbai Foundation who have been working tirelessly in the field for so many years.”
Rajashree Kadam, VP-Operations, Salaam Mumbai Foundation, said, “We are honoured and grateful to Balbharati for naming Salaam Mumbai Foundation in the textbook. Based on feedback from schoolteachers on the importance of educating children while still in school, we had approached Balbharati to include a chapter on tobacco and its ill-effects in their textbooks. We are very happy that they incorporated our suggestions. It is a huge recognition of our efforts against tobacco. We hope there are many more such joint initiatives and with their support we will soon achieve our common vision to create a tobacco-free Maharashtra. We have gone a step further and introduced a Tobacco-Free Schools mobile app which allows schools to show case their efforts, thus encouraging and supporting each other. “