It’s estimated that about five million children in India are addicted to tobacco. They’re lured in by small, brightly colored packs of chewing tobacco—very popular in India—that cost just pennies a pack and are available everywhere, often close to schools. Frequently, children start using chewing tobacco, then graduate to cigarettes as they get older.
To combat this trend, the Mumbai-based Salaam Bombay Foundation has offered innovative school-based programs since 2002 to steer kids away from tobacco use by engaging them in spirited anti-tobacco campaigns and helping boost their life skills and confidence through sports, arts, and cultural activities. Padmini Somani, Salaam Bombay’s executive director and founder, described the organization’s work in a talk at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) on March 5, 2013 to health communication students and faculty.
Kasisomayajula Viswanath, associate professor of social and behavioral sciences at HSPH, introduced Somani. With other HSPH colleagues, Viswanath has helped Somani evaluate Salaam Bombay’s programs. An April 2012 study published in PLOS ONE by Viswanath; Glorian Sorensen, professor of social and behavioral sciences at HSPH; Prakash Gupta, PD ’85, director of Healis-Sekhsaria Institute of Public Health in Mumbai; and Eve Nagler, SD ’10, a research scientist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, found that students enrolled in the foundation’s programs were half as likely as other children to start using tobacco.