Marketing hype by e cigarette, alcohol industries top factor in mainstreaming intoxication as cool & socially acceptable Experts

New Delhi, May 3 : National experts from the fields of policy, psychology, social sciences and medical fraternity have raised the issue of drug abuse as a problem waiting to explode among the 10 to 17 years age groups in the next decade in India. The experts were deliberating as part of the ongoing 'Ideas for an Addiction-Free India' study, conducted by the independent think tank Think Change Forum, to address rising adolescent addiction in the post-pandemic world. The experts suggested that mental health issues, performance pressure, feelings of emptiness, and changing socio-economic conditions are making more youth addicted in both urban and rural areas. The experts also identified important trends that accelerated substance use among youth and the most important interventions needed to decelerate addiction. The glamorization of intoxication and addictive substances was identified as an important trend. Parenting Coach & TEDx Speaker, Sushant Kalra said, "Today, heroes and heroines in popular media glamourise intoxication. Children and adolescents are exposed to these role models indulging in such acts across different media, including movies and video series. The message conveyed is that these activities are not only acceptable but also highly desirable. Therefore, those who have not yet engaged in such activities may feel stigmatized. The environment is not saying it is wrong, it's saying it is great. Do it." Another trend that the experts discussed is the marketing hype created by international e-cigarette companies claiming that electronic devices and vaping products are less harmful than cigarette smoking and that they aid deaddiction. Dr. K. K. Handa, Chairman of ENT and Head Neck Surgery at Medanta Hospitals said, "The international tobacco industry is attempting to position e-cigarettes as a substitute for smoking. This industry is marketing a great story that e-cigarettes can substitute burning of cigarettes, but this is not medically substantiated." Dr. Rajesh Gupta, Additional Director Pulmonology & Critical Care - Fortis Healthcare Noida adds, "E-cigarettes become a step-up activity to smoking conventional cigarettes. This is because electronic devices which are a key part of e-cigarettes can be used to deliver other higher degree of addictive substances which can be in the form of sticks or other liquids." Rapid rise in the growth of this category due to the rising mental health issues among children on the back of growing performance pressures and emptiness has been identified as another important trend. As per Clinical Psychologist Dr. R.K. Suri, "Mental Health issues as well as societal pressures result in increasing usage of addictive substances among our youth." Speaking about important interventions to tackle the false propaganda of e-cigarette and alcohol companies Dr. Safala Shroff, Adolescent Health Educator said, "Proponents of e-cigarettes and vaping use social media platforms frequented by adolescents and youth to advocate against their ban. To counter such propaganda our narratives have to be sound and scientific. We need to learn to talk in a manner that will connect with children and the adolescent and tell them that vaping is not better than tobacco, but, in fact, is a device that presently leads to the highest levels of addiction and lung injury." Dr. Vikas Mittal, Associate Director - Pulmonology, Max Healthcare identified strong enforcement as an important intervention and said, "Although India has implemented a ban on vaping and e-cigarette devices, the availability of these devices through the grey market, both physically and online, needs to be addressed to effectively tackle the issue." Explaining another intervention, Sushant Kalra said, "There are millions of teachers in the country, who should be educated about substance abuse. Educationists need to put up their hands and say it is a critical issue and start talking to children from a young age - as young as five years!" "The influence of parents on their children, especially during their formative years, is significant. When parents instil high moral values in their children, the likelihood of them straying from the right path decreases significantly," said Dr. R.K. Suri, a Clinical Psychologist. The experts unanimously believe that it is crucial to continue further discussions and consultations and enrol more experts and professionals to join the war to protect our youth from addiction. /IANS


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