‘E-cigarettes may be banned in India, but hookah bars and smoking in clubs on weekends are increasing alarmingly.’
Washington DC: Parents of teens and young adults, beware. Smoking, including vaping, continues to be the biggest health risk. A US-centric multi-authored study finds that in the age group of 18-24 years, nicotine and cannabis remain high-risk consumption items. Additionally, young adults in America are also consuming the deadly cocktail of alcohol and cigarettes. Globally, smoking and drug abuse continue to affect nearly 14% of the youth, and over 5.6% of the world population in the age group of 16-64 years is consuming drugs, say the study experts.
The researchers of this study, some of whom are of Indian origin, find a significant connection with India. E-cigarettes may be banned in India, but hookah bars and smoking in clubs on weekends are increasing alarmingly, says Professor Manoj Sharma, a public health practitioner and the lead researcher of the study published recently. Prof Sharma, who has been a doctor himself, along with Kavita Batra, Ravi Batra, Traci Hayes, Melinda J. Ickes, and Tejinder Pal Singh, published the study from the findings on a sample of 619 young adults between 18 and 24 years. The study found that 62% of the respondents were consuming nicotine, while 33.3% were consuming cannabis through vaping. “About 80% of the respondents in the study sample confirmed drinking alcohol, and nearly 45% were engaged in cigarette smoking.”
The trends of smoking and substance abuse are alarmingly high, and it needs effective interventions to enhance quitting of smoking behaviour at public and community health levels, warn the study’s authors.
Talking to The Sunday Guardian, Prof Sharma spoke about substance abuse as a serious global health risk, particularly during the last three years of Covid-19, when young and old are both seeking isolation out of depression and stress. “The global younger generation is more at risk, including in India,” says Prof Sharma, who is the Chair of the School of Public Health in the University of Nevada in Las Vegas. He added: “According to a global survey, 5.6% of the global population between 15-64 use drugs. Put together, smoking, alcohol, and illicit drug use are responsible for 11.8 million deaths each year. About 14% of the health burden in youth is linked to alcohol and drug abuse.”
Prof Sharma cited the case of the US, where, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), alcohol, marijuana, and tobacco are substances most commonly used by adolescents. He said, “By the 12th grade, about two-thirds of the students have tried alcohol. About half of 9th through 12th-grade students reported ever having used marijuana. About 4 in 10 students of 9th to 12th grades reported having tried cigarettes. And, among 12th graders, about 2 in 10 students reported using prescription medicine without a prescription.”
These are alarming signals, and it is not confined to America only. The youth worldwide is indulging in smoking and substance abuse from the school level itself, the study pointed out.
Added Prof Sharma: “Vaping is becoming a ‘gateway drug’, just like smoking and alcohol are for adolescents and young adults globally. Substance abuse is a major public health problem in the youth, with 14% of the health burden linked to it globally. The most vulnerable group is the adolescents because they start as experimentation but very easily become substance use disorders that can lead to myriad negative effects on the individual, community, and society.”
But how can it be countered? Both prevention and help with quitting these behaviours are the keys to combating this serious public health issue. Prof Sharma said: “Our recent study has shown that a contemporary fourth-generation behavioral framework, the multi-theory model (MTM) of health behaviour change is helpful in assisting young adults quit the habit of vaping. This theory has also been applied to smoking (including water pipe), alcohol drinking, and substance use with great success.”
In the context of India, he says India has banned e-cigarettes, but smoking among young school-going to college students is a serious health concern. “The banning of vaping in India is a praiseworthy move that shows strong political will against the powerful vaping lobby. But smoking and substance abuse still are problems. The framework of the multi-theory model (MTM) of health behaviour changes is robust and has been applied in various parts of the US, Nepal, India, China, Ghana, Nigeria, Iran, Pakistan, Italy, and many other countries with great success. Such interventions must be encouraged at the public health level along with effective media campaigns as India did with anti-smoking campaigns.”
He added that the same political will that Indian health authorities have shown against fighting vaping needs to be extended to alcohol, smoking, smokeless tobacco, betel nut chewing, and other substance use issues. Different layered health interventions like counselling programs at the individual level, health education and promotion interventions at the group level, and mass media campaigns at the societal level are required, and will require strong political will to execute these effectively in a country like India.