Background & objectives: Tobacco use among school children is becoming a serious problem in developing countries. The early age of initiation underscores the urgent need to intervene and protect this vulnerable group from falling prey to this addiction. The present study was thus undertaken to assess the prevalence of tobacco habits among school children, determine the age of initiation of these habits, and compare the age of initiation between students who were more than 15 and ≤ 15 yr of age.
Methods: Data on tobacco use were collected from 4786 students of class 7 to 12 (age: 11-19 yr) studying in different private and government schools of Noida city during July- December 2005, through cluster and random sampling using a self-administered questionnaire.
Results: Any kind of tobacco use was found in 537 (11.2%) students; 419 (8.8%) were 'ever smokers (including current smokers)' 219 (4.6%) were 'ever tobacco chewers (including current chewers)', 179 (3.7%) were 'exclusive smokers' and 118 (2.5%) were 'exclusive tobacco chewers'. The mean age of initiation of these habits was around 12.4 yr. More than 50 per cent of tobacco chewers reported use of khaini at least once. Nearly 70 per cent of boys and 80 per cent of girls ≤ 15 yr initiated the habit of tobacco before the age of 11 yr. A significant early uptake of tobacco chewing was reported from private school students as compared to government school students (P<0.05).
Interpretation & conclusions: Tobacco addiction is emerging as a big threat among children. Our findings indicate a recent downward shift in the age at initiation of tobacco uptake and rising prevalence among girls. Such data need to be collected from different parts of the country to develop anti-tobacco campaigns and take policy decision.