Youths are quitting tobacco, but why isn't that good news?
Good news. Since 2009-10, a third of young adults aged 15-24 have quit smoking. Among those aged 15-17, half have left the habit. Bad news. Many of them have instead switched to alcohol and other drugs. Children as young as 12 are going for alcohol or heroin nowadays. Data from the Global Adult Tobacco Survey-2 brings to the fore alarming trends.
In 2015, the Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights found street children started abusing drugs at 13. Sometimes the age of initiation was as low as five. The problem doesn't end at abuse: the NCRB reports a jump of over 100% in suicides linked to substance abuse in 20 years. According to the UN, India has 10mn of the world's 247mn drug abusers.
Peer pressure is high: kids often learn of these "quick fixes" from their friends. The internet isn't helping; it has provided children more knowledge about drugs, especially cannabis, which is in fact glamorized. Besides, access to whiteners, petrol and more is easier than ever.
This has led to a rise in youths seeking help. Dr Samir Parikh (Fortis) reports a five-fold increase in adolescents reporting substance-abuse problems in less than a decade. According to expert Keshav Palita, 5-10 new adolescent patients arrive each day; more than half started drugs before turning 15. The most common substances abused were alcohol, cannabis, cocaine, mephedrone and "other pharmaceutical and party drugs".
Punjab is one of the worst sufferers. During March-August'17, over 7,000 were arrested and 98kg heroin, 289kg opium and 20,340kg poppy husk seized. A cop-peddler nexus worsened matters. The crackdown has made access difficult though: a gram of heroin, previously priced Rs. 2,000, now goes for Rs. 5,000. Subsequently, number of patients has decreased: from 1,600 (March) to 2,300 (May) to 800 now.
The Punjab government is running a 24x7 helpline for people wishing to quit. It receives around 20 calls a day, each lasting for 20 minutes to an hour. If anyone you know needs help, you can call on 1800-11-0031.