Winter 2005     Vol. 13, Issue 2


Tobacco Program Encourages South Indian Village To Bid “Bye” to Beedis

Citizens of Pattur engrossed in a community health workshop in South India.

Six years ago, all 2,500 families in the South Indian village of Pattur supported themselves by rolling beedis, small, unfiltered cigarettes. Today, only 250 families earn their living this way. Meanwhile, the number of companies that collect Pattur beedis has dropped from five to three in the last year, and the incidence of beedi smoking in the village is down 60 percent.

The turning point occurred in September 2004, when CECHE partnered with the Chennai-based NGO Roshni to implement a two-year Tobacco Control Communications Program in Pattur, including health hazard awareness and education, vocational training and job placement. In the past year alone, as many as 100 individuals and nine families have given up beedi production for other professions, including garment design, tailoring and embroidery, leather goods production and grocery/shop businesses. In fact, the rate of beedi rolling work in Pattur has been reduced by 50 percent in the current year.

Program Progress and Plans
One of the primary goals of the Tobacco Control Communications Program in S. India is the formation of self-help groups (SHGs) that practice and promote a healthy lifestyle in general and cessation of beedi rolling and smoking in particular. Targeted primarily to women, these groups meet once a week and include vocational fieldwork and microcredit discussions, as well as treatment and clinical follow-up for former beedi laborers. The CECHE-Roshni initiative also conducts monthly activities to forward tobacco awareness and change, and organizes health and hygiene classes and camps.

With the two-year program now passing its halfway point, progress is palpable. In mid-June 2005, for example, Pattur residents exhibited a strong knowledge of tobacco hazards when Roshni conducted a prize-filled quiz contest in the village. Over the summer, the children of SHG members were encouraged to pursue higher studies and received admissions and course selection assistance. During this academic year, two boys and one girl were admitted to college after passing their school final exams. Additionally, with assistance from the local counselor, a women taking active part in the CECHE-Roshni program, 42 needy children from grades 1 through 8 received free textbooks and notebooks.

Over the past year, 61 girls who underwent training at Roshni’s tailoring school, established 12 years ago in Pattur with the object of discouraging beedi rolling, got two-month apprenticeships at a nearby leather factory and are now earning monthly salaries ranging from Rs.1000 to Rs.2500. Similarly, six boys got into workshops and the leather industry after completing a vocational course offered through the program. Underlining the effectiveness of the CECHE-Roshni initiative, today, three buses come to the village every day to transport dozens of women and girls to and from the garment factories. And the women of Pattur get even more jobs during Diwali, Ramzan and the school uniform season since Roshni assists them in getting, and filling, bulk orders.

On September 10, 2005, health workshops were launched at the Roshni centre in Pattur. Roshni secretary, Dr. Shamsia Banu, conducted the debut session, which focused on healthy cooking, clean food and nutritious choices for special-needs groups such as children and diabetics. Other members of Roshni demonstrated how to make healthy drinks with inexpensive seasonal fruits, vegetables and protein-rich whole grains and cereals. The 30 workshop attendees received materials and certificates of participation.

Going forward, CECHE and Roshni will continue to wean people from beedi rolling as they engage more community groups in the fight for health and adopt science-based methods for treating tobacco dependence. Specifically, the groups plan to participate in the World Health Organization’s 2006 QUIT and WIN campaign, a bi-annual, international smoking-cessation competition. They are also making arrangements to conduct a program on diabetic retinopathy awareness and screening for around 150 villagers in coordination with the NGO Sankara Nethralaya (The Temple of the Eye).

Optimistic Outlook
The numerous educational and training activities sponsored by the Tobacco Control Communications Program in S. India have already had substantial impact on both use cessation among beedi smokers and the increase in non-tobacco trades among beedi rollers. The rate of beedi smoking has dropped 60 percent, and the incidence of beedi rolling is 10 percent of what it was five to six years ago.

Assessment through random interviews and discussions with residents will clarify the effect of program pamphlets and other educational materials on recognition of the hazards of smoking, while periodic check-ups and follow-ups at the health center will help to determine the degree of awareness, and cessation responsiveness, among beedi smokers.

Overall, the CECHE-Roshni program is expected to generate substantial health and economic benefits among Pattur’s population as it promotes the reduction of beedi-smoking-related morbidity and mortality throughout South India. Thankfully, current data appears encouraging on all fronts.

Dr. Shamsia Banu
Chennai, South India

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