The threat of shops near schools selling tobacco and pubs that admit students

14-09-2016
TH

Fourteen-year old Mathew (name changed) remembers clearly the first time he went with senior boys to the grocery store ‘down the road’ from his school in Frazer Town. There was a good collection of chocolates and chips that the average teenager is fond of, but they were there for a different reason altogether – cigarettes to be smoked in secret.

“I felt really cool. But this was during the final exams and it did not last. We were caught and our parents were informed. I did not see these boys again and none of us have the courage to venture into that shop again,” he says.

A private school in a residential neighbourhood at Basaveshwarnagar has been facing problems from small kirana stores nearby that sell cigarettes indiscriminately to adults and students. “We have close to 2,000 students. It’s a huge problem to monitor them all the time,” said the principal.

According to the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Act, 2003 (COTPA), sale of cigarettes and other tobacco products within a 100-yard radius of educational institutions is illegal. Similarly, the State’s Excise Department bans the sale of liquor within a radius of 100 yards from educational institutions. But, these rule are flouted.

Most shopkeepers are apathetic about the age of their customers, and several schools say they are unable to stop such shops from selling cigarettes to students.

Some schools in Fraser Town, Residency Road and Richmond Town too expressed concern about the pubs in the vicinity, on Brigade Road and Church Street.

“I asked the PTA and the teachers to look into the trend of students frequenting pubs. But, they said it is not their problem if the place is not very close to the school,” said the parent of a child enrolled in an international school.

“There was an incident last year where we found out that it was a trend among some middle- and high-school students to hang out at a nearby pub. They used to go in their schools uniforms but were admitted inside. Only after we spoke to the pub owners and threatened police action did they stop the practice. The students were adequately punished,” said a teacher in a girls’ school.

What Section 6 of the Control of Tobacco Products Act (COTPA) 2003 says

No person shall sell, offer for sale or permit sale of cigarette or any other tobacco product

— to any person under 18 years

— within a radius of 100 yards of any educational institution

Penalty

Any offence committed under Section 4 or Section 6 may either before or after the institution of the prosecution be compounded by such officer authorised by the Union government or State government and for an amount, which may not exceed Rs. 200.

Toll free number to report violations – 1800110456

People Speak

“Although we systematically check our students after school, educate and warn them about the hazards of smoking, teenagers are susceptible. The easy availability of cigarettes and liquor does not help. We are concerned about the pubs nearby that admit school children,” says Manjula Raman, Principal, Army Public School.

"Tobacco companies are on the lookout for young, new customers, who, once addicted, will be long-time consumers. Strict enforcement around educational institutions is necessary to prevent easy access," says Pragati Hebbar, Advocacy Officer, Institute of Public Health.

Experts Speak

“Most of these students get these products from unlicensed peddlers who hang around schools. Each school has its own groups, like NCC and scouts, to keep a watch on such activities and report to the correct authority. If the school authorities are unable to do anything about this, they can call us or the child rights’ commission,” says Dr. Vishal Rao, oncologist and member of the Karnataka government’s high power committee on tobacco control.

Possible Solutions: ‘Don’t treat it as an outside problem’

There are several ways to tackle this menace of easy availability of tobacco and alcohol near schools, say experts. The Karnataka government’s high power committee on tobacco control has already asked inspectors, who routinely visit colleges and schools, to report shops nearby that sell tobacco or alcohol. This is usually followed up by police action.

“Teachers have to be alert and will have to fulfil, at least partially, the role of an enforcer. They have to be more involved in reporting such issues to the police. Most schools are known to treat this as an outside problem because it is outside their gates,” says K. Anand, Director Primary, Department of Public Instruction. He added that such vigilance had brought down the number of such shops in south Karnataka.

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