Tobacco is one of the biggest global health concerns of this century with a significant contribution to the increasing burden of cancers, chronic diseases and associated mortality. Tobacco-related cancers are one of the commonest causes of cancer-related mortality in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). The tobacco epidemic is constantly on the rise, affecting LMICs in particular due to a lack of awareness in the population, insufficient health infrastructure and weak regulatory interventions. India is home to the world’s largest youth population and a large percentage of them take up tobacco at a very young age, leading to subsequent habit formation. There is limited evidence in published research from India on young people’s perceptions on the use and control of tobacco.
This qualitative study has attempted to bridge that knowledge gap; a thematic analysis was used on the qualitative data gathered from young university students who participated in interviews and focus group discussions, which was then compared and contrasted with a critical analysis of India’s national tobacco control measures. It employed a health policy analysis framework to understand how gaps in the national tobacco control initiatives contribute towards tobacco use in young people and what opportunities for policy reform exist.
The main results revealed social and behavioural factors, peer dynamics and lack of awareness to be majorly influencing the tobacco debut and use in youth. Some other important findings emerged such as a lack of available support for tobacco cessation, leading to failure in quitting, a lack of understanding about the ill effects of tobacco and an overall lack of belief in the existing tobacco control measures. The qualitative results were further triangulated by the critical analysis of the national tobacco control policies, comparing them with the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Juxtaposition of the qualitative research findings with the policy analysis reveals possible gaps in implementation of the tobacco laws. The findings from this study will inform health policymakers, public health professionals, clinicians, the government and other voluntary organisations to strengthen national tobacco control efforts.