Background: Smoking of cigarettes and, particularly, of “bidis” (which consist of about 0.2-0.3 gm of tobacco rolled up in the leaf of another plant (temburni) has been widespread for many decades among men in India. There have, however, been no substantial studies on the prevalence of tobacco use among youth in India. Hence a Global Youth Tobacco Survey was conducted in schools in Tamil Nadu as part of on-going Global Youth Tobacco survey in over 150 countries in the world.
Methods: The two-stage cluster sample method was used to select 100 schools with standards 8, 9 and 10 in Tamil Nadu. The survey used self administered questionnaires, which consisted of 88 multiple choice questions.
Results: A total of 4820 students participated (a response rate of 90.1%) in the 99 of 100 schools selected for the survey. About 10% of students aged 13-15 in Tamil Nadu had ever used tobacco. Significantly higher percentages of current tobacco users (one in three students) compared to never tobacco users thought smoking or chewing tobacco makes a boy or girl more attractive. About 3 in 4 current smokers expressed a wish to stop smoking and a similar proportion have already tried to quit the habit. About 80% of students considered using tobacco (smoking or chewing tobacco) to be harmful to their health. Only about half of the students reported that they have been taught in school the health effects of tobacco use during the year preceding the survey. Exposure to environmental tobacco smoke and pro-tobacco advertisements is high.
Conclusions: The tobacco prevalence among girls is alarming. The results of the survey show the need to increase awareness about health hazards of tobacco use among students. Tobacco control programs focusing on youth are essential in order to reduce the burden of tobacco related diseases in India. Repeat surveys would help in monitoring the tobacco epidemic in the school and to evaluate the efficacy of state level tobacco control programs.