Governance · Law · Public Policy

Shouldn’t the Silent Killer be banned throughout the Country?

The Supreme Court issued a notice earlier, to the Centre and the states, on a PIL seeking a complete ban on smoking products in the country, as it is the biggest health hazard for the public and sought the response of the states, on the plea to stop the telecast of smoking advertisements.[1]

While Section 7 of the COTPA (Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products, Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution Act), 2003, which says no tobacco product can be sold without pictorial warnings about its health consequences, was violated by the selling of loose cigarettes, the Punjab Health Department took a step forward to curb the addiction towards smoking. Punjab thus became the first state in India to break down the practice.

A remarkably high percentage of the population in our country is into smoking and it has become a sine qua non to check the process of usage of tobacco at such a high rate, as it is one of the main causes of the spread of heart diseases, cancer, ulcers, breathing problems and so on. A draft bill that was proposed to amend the existing Act stated that the major cause of the spread of contagious diseases like swine flu, avian flu, TB and pneumonia was spitting of tobacco in public.

Ms. Bhavna B. Mukhopadhyay, Executive Director of the Voluntary Health Association of India said that the Punjab government had demonstrated tremendous commitment towards safeguarding the health of the people with the ban. She added, “This step will go a long way in saving lakhs of lives while reducing the government expenditure on treating tobacco-related diseases. The Government of India should also completely ban the sale of loose cigarettes in the larger interest of the younger generation falling prey to this tobacco menace and suffering premature death.”

Union Health Minister J.P. Nadda made an announcement in the Parliament that the Ministry had accepted the recommendations of the expert panel on COTPA amendments that prohibit the sale of loose cigarettes and raise the minimum legal age for sale of tobacco products in the month of November 2014. The panel proposed to raise the minimum age for buying cigarettes and other tobacco products from 18 to 21, adding that the penalty or fine for violation would be raised, as well as making such offenses would be made clearly identifiable and further informed that a draft note for the Cabinet had been circulated.[2]

“Since loose cigarettes were easily available, children were getting addicted to these. The decision will also help reduce the overall use of tobacco in the state where tobacco use is high despite the majority Sikh population,” said Rakesh Gupta, State Programme Officer, Tobacco Control Cell, Punjab. Punjab had banned the sale of flavoured and scented tobacco November 2014. “By banning loose cigarettes, Punjab has demonstrated its commitment towards safeguarding the health of its people, especially the youth.[3]

The chewable tobacco and e-cigarettes were also banned in the state under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 2013. “The state government has in principle decided to declare the whole of the state ‘Tobacco Smoke Free Zone.’ Provisions of COTPA would now be binding on hotels, restaurants, dhabas, and all other commercial establishments,” said a government official.[4]

Like Punjab, other states too shall take the measures to cut down the consumption of tobacco. It is high time that the government officials take up the matter and save the people.

In a recent case, Love Care Foundation v. Union of India & Anr., the Allahabad High Court in a writ petition filed by the Petitioner observed that plain packaging of cigarettes and other tobacco products sold in India would help reduce the attractiveness of such products, which in turn would safeguard the health of the youth. The Court strongly recommended that the Government of India considers the feasibility of implementing plain packaging of cigarettes and other tobacco products and takes necessary steps at the earliest.[5]

Now the question is, will the ban on the sale of loose cigarettes or making a plain package for cigarettes help the people or will it unfasten the door to other possibilities?

There is a high probability that this ban will unlace other possibilities. The wage-earners who are addicted to cigarettes will switch to “Beedis”, “Ghutkas” and “Ganjas” as they are cheaper than the cigarettes. Few may escalate their consumption to a packet of cigarette; others will go for “Hookahs”. And the plain package will never be an issue for the smokers as the substitutes to cigarettes are not found in attractive boxes.

On the other hand, the people who are into production of tobacco will fail to earn their bread and butter. The government should provide an alternate method of sustenance for them i.e., by engaging them in the cultivation of any crop other than tobacco, or by making them work in factories. Unless they are into any other work, they will be stamped out like the cigarette itself.

To put an absolute stop to the tobacco usage, few strictures should be followed, like the imposition of a high rate of fine on public smoking, vigilance should be kept on the shops, be it a road side shop or malls, educational institutions, offices, restaurants having smoking zones.

India is also a party to The World Health Organization (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which states that countries “shall endeavour” to prohibit sale of loose cigarettes, which are more affordable for minors.[6]

Furthermore, the 3-year old hookah ban has been ruled out by the Supreme Court allowing appeal against the judgments of High Courts of Gujrat, Bombay and Madras. Hookahs may be considered as substitute to the cigarettes as they are believed to be less harmful. But the existence of tobacco automatically makes it a health-destroyer. The laws in these areas, i.e., the use of tobacco should be strict enough to not give room to manoeuvre.

Few things which may reduce the intake of hookah are CCTV covering all the hookah bars with clear visibility, de-licensing the bars, heavy taxation, making people aware of the fact that it’s not only cigarettes that are hazardous, hookah is almost equivalent to the silent killer.

[1]http://www.ndtv.com/article/india/supreme-court-issues-notice-to-centre-states-on-plea-to-ban-smoking-576091

[2]http://www.medindia.net/news/punjab-government-bans-sale-of-loose-cigarettes-and-tobacco-products-145512-1.htm

[3] http://www.tribuneindia.com/news/punjab/sale-of-loose-cigarettes-tobacco-banned-in-state/27087.html

[4]http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/chandigarh/Punjab-first-to-ban-sale-of-loose-cigarettes/articleshow/45785569.cms

[5]http://www.mondaq.com/india/x/349898/food+drugs+law/HC+Urges+Indian+Government+To+Implement+Plain+Packaging+Of+Cigarette+And+Other+Tobacco+Products

[6] http://in.reuters.com/article/2014/11/25/india-cigarettes-idINKCN0J90P720141125

About the Author

AmritaAmrita Dasgupta is pursuing her B.A. LL.B., from South Calcutta Law College. She loves doing research and holds a predilection for new things. Criminology has always been her field of interest but uncommon fields attract her more. Currently, she is interning at the Model Governance Foundation.

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