On the 73rd Republic Day of India, a ﬁrst-of-its-kind virtual youth convening to create better ways for a youth-led movement that can enable a tobacco-free India. Delhi-based MASH Project Foundation in partnership with the Tata Memorial Center brought together over 120 young people from across India by kick-starting their catalyzing journeys for a tobacco-free India.
‘Charcha se Change’ convened over 20 youth-centric organizations and more than 150 participants from UP, Delhi, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Dehradun, and Gujarat to build a positive conversation on making India a tobacco-free nation and explore the role of young people in the same. The outcome of this convening includes the release of a youth perception and fact sheet for a tobacco-free India.
According to the Global Youth Tobacco Survey (2019), children are initiating use of tobacco at age 10 years. At ages 13–15, 8.5% currently use some form of tobacco, 4.1% smoke tobacco, and 4.1% use smokeless tobacco. Given these disturbing statistics demonstrating the adverse health, social and ﬁnancial impact of tobacco on young people, any solutions require them to be front and centre.
Elaborating on the urgency and the need for action, Prof (Dr.) Pankaj Chaturvedi, Head Neck Surgeon, and Deputy Director, Cancer Epidemiology, Tata Memorial Centre said, “When young individuals, unfortunately, pass away due to the health effects of excessive tobacco consumption, the lives of their families and friends are also adversely affected. Sadly, this is not a small number. In India, 13.5 lac individuals per year face death because of tobacco consumption”. As keynote speaker Dr Pankaj Chaturvedi also shared his valuable insights on the harmful effects of tobacco, the cancer health burden it causes for young people, the current tobacco consumption scenario and the direction Indian youth need to take to help tackle tobacco use
Organized in a World Cafe format, the convening had 6 breakout sessions that focused on emerging areas of action including increasing the age limit for tobacco consumption, the role of media and advertisement in inﬂuencing tobacco consumption, accessibility of tobacco products among others. Other speakers included Nikkie Gargi, a youth advocate from Odisha, who shared her own journey of how she overcame her tobacco addiction. According to Nikki, “When it comes to de-addiction, communities play a big positive role. We should be a part of sharing circles and communities where that provides a safe space to talk about issues like tobacco addiction”.
A key outcome of the convening has been the creation of a youth collective that will support local youth micro-actions on the issue. Young people took centre stage at the convening and examined the ways to strengthen awareness and advocacy. Speaking about her experience, Manmayi Mohapatra from The 6 am Club said, “I found the convening and the breakout rooms very insightful for my own understanding. “I’m glad to be part of a journey that is shaping a new narrative for tobacco-free India which is led, created, and supported by young people”.
Charcha se Change is an urgent step in bringing youth to the centre of conversations for the pertinent issue of tobacco control in India. MASH Project Foundation aims to continue activating young people to be advocates on the issue of tobacco control.
Founder & CEO of MASH Project Foundation, Aashish Beergi outlined the importance of engaging young people, “This 73rd Republic Day is an important reminder of how far as a nation we have come and how far we have to go. Young people are India’s biggest asset, and protecting their health should be a key priority for us. ‘Charcha se Change’ is a platform for youth and youth-centric organizations to have relevant conversations and mobilize action for making India a tobacco-free nation.”