We have often been told – ‘habits die hard’ and that is especially true for tobacco. This deleterious addiction, when inculcated early in life, lingers on into adulthood and makes it difficult to give up. Statistics from the Global Youth Tobacco Survey reported that 15% of children are likely to try tobacco, setting the panic button on the increasing use of tobacco among youth. But what makes children try tobacco? Are there factors in their upbringing environment that influence this?
In a recent study conducted in the states of North East India, the researchers have explored the answers to these questions. The study, conducted by researchers from the International Institute for Population Sciences, Mumbai, focussed on household members -- especially parents’ influence on children’s likelihood of developing the habit. Their results, some surprising and serving as an eye-opener, were published in the Journal of Environmental and Public Health.
The study is based on District Level Household and Facility Survey 2012-13 (DLHS-4) unit level data from seven states of North East India, except Assam. The participants included 27,706 youth in the age group of 15-24 years, whose responses were analysed to understand the trend in tobacco use (smokeless and smoking). But why were these states picked? The use of tobacco in these states has remained persistently high at above 50% with one third of the youth using some form of tobacco. Mizoram and Meghalaya topped the list and smokeless tobacco was most consumed. Also, the survey found that girls consumed smokeless tobacco more than boys.
One of the interesting outcomes of the study was that the researchers identified that parent’s use of tobacco influenced their children’s tobacco use too. The findings suggest that children living with mothers who use tobacco are 3.4 times more likely to use tobacco, but had only a 1.14 chance of using tobacco if their father was using tobacco. This risk was more with smokeless tobacco such as pan, dried tobacco leaves, etc. than with smoking cigarettes, beedis and cigars. After considering other socio-economic factors, the study estimates that 28% of the youth have a probability of using any form of tobacco, 12% risk using smokeless tobacco and 17% might favour smoking tobacco.
“There is a positive relationship between parental use of tobacco on children’s behaviour. This linkage is because the young children and youth tend to imitate or follow their elders by observing them”, says Prof. Laishram Ladusingh, co-author of the study, describing the results. The present study indicates that the behaviour of the mother seems to matter much more than that of father’s in terms of youth’s behaviour. “We think this might be because children are usually more attached to their mothers and, as mothers spend more time at home, the children observe her behaviour more closely”, adds Dr. Pralip Kumar Narzary, another co-author of the study.
India has anti-tobacco laws such as Cigarette and Other Tobacco Product Act of 2003 that prevents the sale of any tobacco product within 200 meters of educational institution and sale to minors. However, implementation of this law alone may not be able to reduce the use of tobacco among the youths, unless the behaviour of youth is managed at a household level. This study strongly affirms that tobacco use is socially acceptable and integral part of the culture of the region and gives a hint that existing laws are not enough to curb the public health problem but requires a different approach starting at a family level.