Street children in Mumbai spend more on tobacco than food: survey

March 10th, 2009 - 7:16 pm ICT by IANS  

Mumbai, March 10 (IANS) Thousands of street children in Mumbai spend more on tobacco than on food every day, according to a survey of their economic conditions and tobacco consumption.
“Street children spend far more on tobacco than on nutritious food. These children spend more each month on naswar (snuff), mava, gutka (both forms of chewing tobacco) and cigarettes than on meat, almost as much for khaini (powdered tobacco) as for milk, and more for all forms of tobacco except masheri (tobacco paste) than on fruit or eggs,” said the survey ‘Choosing Tobacco over Food: Daily Struggles for Existence among the Street Children of Mumbai’.

The survey, conducted by Shelter Don Bosco - a Mumbai-based NGO working with street children, is part of a report ‘Tobacco and Poverty: Observations from India and Bangladesh’, distributed on the third day of the 14th World Conference on Tobacco or Health here.

“Tobacco use is an integral part of life for street children in Mumbai. They start by picking up discarded butts from cigarettes and beedis (small hand rolled cigars), then quickly move on to purchasing tobacco and spending significant sums of their meagre incomes on it. The children also report an array of health effects from tobacco use,” the survey said.

A significant finding was that close to half (46.8 percent) of the children in the study sample use gutka and 39.5 percent smoke beedis. Cigarettes, which are far more expensive than gutka and beedis, were consumed by 28 percent of the children.

According to the survey, daily expenditure on tobacco was highest for gutka - at over Rs.6 per day. The amount also represented a large portion - about 21 percent - of the Rs.29, which was the average daily earning of these children.

Some children earning less than Rs.20 a day spent as much as Rs.8.60 daily on beedis, an astounding 43 percent of their earnings, while children earning less than Rs.60 per day spent Rs.8 per day buying mava, representing 13 percent of their income.

“Quantities of tobacco products consumed increased consistently until the daily income level reached Rs.200, after which they declined. Similarly the quantity of tobacco consumed, particularly in terms of plain tobacco, cigarettes and gutka, increased substantially with the age of the child,” the survey said.

In comparing the amounts spent on food to those spent on tobacco, the average amount spent on gutka, Rs.6.10 is the same as that spent on the morning meal. More than one-third of the children do not eat eggs, and over one fourth children go without any fruit. A very high proportion - 66 percent - of the children do not drink milk.

“It is clear, when comparing the figures to tobacco purchases, we see that children tend to spend more on gutka, beedis and cigarettes each month than on food and clothing,” the survey said, adding the children also reported a variety of health problems like coughs, weakness, mouth sores and breathing problems from using tobacco.

The conference on Tobacco or Health - the largest meet of anti-tobacco advocates, health experts, scientists and educators - began in Mumbai Sunday. It is the first time the event is being held in India.

More than 2,000 delegates from across the world are attending the conference at the National Centre for Performing Arts. It will end March 12.

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