How Do Adolescents Assess and Rank the Risk of Areca Nut Use? Findings from a Study in Mumbai, India

Document Type : Research Articles


1 Narotam Sekhsaria Foundation, Mumbai, India.

2 Salaam Bombay Foundation, Mumbai, India.


Objective: Areca nut use, along with tobacco, is a contributor to India’s high rates of oral cancer. Areca nut use is culturally accepted, often initiated early in adolescence, and said to lead to later tobacco use. Unlike tobacco prevention, there are scarce prevention or harm-reduction programmes or campaigns specifically targeted at areca nut. Methods: A participative ranking method was used to understand adolescents’ assessment of risks of areca nut. Five focus group discussions were conducted with 31 adolescents, 19 fe-male and 12 male, non-users and users of chewing tobacco, water-pipe (hookah) and areca nut. Participants categorized and ranked the risk of 16 activities, including the use of areca nut and various tobacco-products, and discussed reasons for these risk-rankings. Results: Despite differences between groups on the assessment of risks associated with the 16 different activities, all the groups, user and non-user, rated cigarette smoking as having the highest risk, chewing fennel and using mouth fresheners as no risk, and areca nut as low risk. The other activities were ranked differently by each group. Adolescents’ perceptions of smoking or online games as risky was influenced by greater exposure to messaging on harmful consequences of the activity through multiple channels such as mass media, interpersonal networks including parents, and classroom health-education sessions. Inadequate knowledge about the harmful consequences of areca nut use, greater social and cultural acceptability, and the sweet taste of commercially packaged areca nut influenced low-risk perceptions. Conclusion: Perceptions of risk from an activity often determines preventive behaviors. Presently, adolescents do not perceive areca use as risky. In comparison to smoking they con-sider it less harmful. More research is required to better understand areca nut use and its cul-tural determinants. However, targeted health communication messages and prevention poli-cies and programmes have to be initiated to reduce areca nut use and associated burden of oral cancer. 


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