Protecting Our Youth: The Importance of Tobacco-Free Schools
"Legacy is not what I did for myself. It's what I'm doing for the next generation."- Vitor Belfort
As we face the upheavals and complexities of today's world, one aspect remains non-negotiable: the well-being of our youth. In an era where our younger generation faces a wide range of challenges, one of the most critical ones is the menace that is tobacco consumption. Even though we have progressed in leaps and bounds concerning raising awareness about the harm due to tobacco use, our youth are susceptible to falling prey to this menace.
Understanding the cause and addressing the issue at the grassroots level will help us sharpen our weapons in our battle against tobacco use.
Why Youth Falls Prey To Tobacco Consumption?
Protecting our youth from falling into the clutches of tobacco use is and will remain a critical issue: one that will always need to be addressed with urgency. Tobacco use usually begins in adolescence and continues well into adulthood. Sadly, this means many future tobacco users are today's children.
Most younger children have never tried tobacco and if asked, might also tell you they never plan to do so. But as they get older, what changes?
Tobacco companies advertise their products to make tobacco users look like cool thrill-seekers. And we all remember how important it was to us as teens to look cool. Some might think trying a cigarette or tasting gutka may not harm them. Or maybe they feel they can use tobacco for a bit and then quit. However, once the ritual is set, most underestimate how tough it will be to stop it.
- Their parents use tobacco
- Peer pressure- think of all the friends that have asked you to try something in the past. Yaar, ek sutta try kar, maza ayega!”
- Smoking or using tobacco equals a show of independence or rebellion.
- The 'feel-good' feeling that comes with nicotine
- Teenagers like to experiment
Tobacco Education In Schools: Steps To Achieve Tobacco-Free World
Think about your childhood. How much of it did you spend at school? A huge chunk, right? A significant number of youngsters start using tobacco during their teen years. This is why schools can play a major role in curbing tobacco use among the youth. A school is an ideal place for providing tobacco-prevention programs to children and adolescents.
Tobacco use can cause serious harm to health in growing children. A school can prevent and reduce tobacco use in students by creating an environment that encourages anti-tobacco behaviour. By following certain steps, schools can be the best medium to prevent tobacco use in youngsters. Here are a few such steps that can be implemented:
- Schools can prohibit tobacco use by students and staff visitors on school grounds and at school events. Ensuring that no kids use tobacco at school is effective. However, if staff follow the same policy, it only amplifies the tobacco-free message among the youth.
- Programs that educate, prevent, and reduce tobacco use are also highly effective at the school level. Such programs can be used to raise awareness about short- and long-term effects, negative consequences, social influences, peer pressure, media literacy, and refusal skills.
- Schools can also provide program-specific training to teachers, ensuring seamless and effective delivery of tobacco prevention instructions. Teachers play a huge role in moulding young children, making them instrumental in their role as counsellors.
- Parents and family members play a pivotal role in influencing a child's perception of tobacco use. Haven't all of us tried to play dress-up like papa and go to a pretend-office to work? To address this, schools can include homework that educates and involves parents or other family members. This can potentially lead to better tobacco-related policies at home or even encourage parents and relatives to try to quit.
- Schools can also focus on helping students and staff quit tobacco through effective cessation programs. All programs by the school can also be assessed at regular intervals to check for effectiveness.
Each young person entwined in the powerful grip of tobacco use is an example of unrealized potential and deserves our commitment to their welfare. And it is through school, with its tobacco-free culture, that we can create a space that offers them the chance to grow and learn: unharmed by the influence of tobacco.
"Each generation is responsible to make the future of the next."
And this year, on ‘World No Tobacco Day’, let's pledge to help our future generation make the right choice: one that doesn't include tobacco!