Why should schoolchildren inhale cigarette smoke daily?

Public smoking rampant near 20 schools checked randomly by TNIE
Image used fro representational purpose (Photo | Ashwin Prasath, EPS)
Image used fro representational purpose (Photo | Ashwin Prasath, EPS)

CHENNAI: Schoolchildren in Chennai are passively inhaling cigarette smoke on a daily basis. A reality check by TNIE near 20 schools selected randomly found men smoking publicly at least in two or three spots within 500m of these schools.

Most of these spots are roadside tea shops and petty shops. Except for those children who can afford cars or school buses, most other children end up inhaling cigarette smoke while on their way to school or returning from them.

For example, at Velachery, near Guru Nanak Matriculation Higher Secondary School, when visiting at least three places in the vicinity of the school, men were seen smoking on the roads. The neighbourhood also has a government school and one more private school. 

The situation is almost the same near all the 20 schools. S Prakash, who came to drop his two daughters at a school near Alandur, said, “There are two tea shops on the road on which the school is located. Every day as I go to drop them off, I see a bunch of people standing in groups and smoking. I’m scared to send them on foot as there are chances they’ll inhale more smoke. So, I take them on my bike every day.”

In some cases, petty shops and tea shops, where men are found smoking, are located close to stationery shops frequented by schoolchildren. A mother, who wished not to be named, told TNIE, “Every morning as I go to drop my son at his school near Medavakkam, we have to cross at least three shops where people are smoking. I cannot use a different route, I don’t know what to do.”

Public smoking is banned as per section 4 of The Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act (COPTA). But it’s very common to find men smoking in public places. What’s shocking is that even in school areas officials have failed to enforce the law.

Dr Arthur J Mohan, a general physician and a consultant surgeon, said, “The risks to those who inhale second-hand smoke are the same as for smokers. They also breathe in thousands of harmful compounds and dangerous gases. They will also be susceptible to illnesses linked to smoking.” About children inhaling smoke, he said they are more vulnerable to diseases caused by passive smoking. Since children’s lungs are young and developing, they absorb most of the toxins from the smoke, he said.

“Some of the diseases that passive smoking leads to are bronchial asthma, recurrent respiratory tract infections, lung and kidney cancer, chronic cough, and heart ailments. Some of the toxins also convert good cholesterol into bad cholesterol. It could also lead to blood vessel diseases like thromboangitis oblitrans (TAO), and others,” the doctor said. Dr Mohan said that passive smoking also affects a person’s mental health.

Cyril Alexander, State Convenor of Tamil Nadu People’s Forum for Tobacco Control (TNPFTC), said, “For a long time it was widely believed that only smokers would be affected by it and only they would be cancer-prone, but several years ago, WHO said second-hand smoke is also highly dangerous. And now there are studies which suggest that even third-hand smoke is harmful too.”

The effects of second-hand smoke exposure include headaches, nausea, and dizziness in addition to irritation of the eyes, nose, throat, and lungs. Exposure can also lead to episodes of asthma, as per a WHO report. Lung cancer, coronary heart disease, and cardiac mortality are all brought on by prolonged exposure to second-hand smoke. Even living among smokers increases the risk of contracting diseases linked to smoking. According to WHO, lung cancer risk increases by 20%–30%, while coronary heart disease risk rises by 25%–30%.

Passive smoking is one of the major reasons for cancer among non-smokers, Cyril added. In the case of children, their smaller lungs and underdeveloped immune systems make them more susceptible to second-hand smoke. 

A study conducted by WHO said that children exposed to second-hand smoke develop respiratory conditions, persistent respiratory symptoms (including asthma), ear infections, and decreased lung function. 

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