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India’s Tobacco Control Act must be amended, should recognise WHO guidelines, says report

The 50-page report, which was submitted to the Ministry of Health, highlights ‘glaring gaps’ such as allowing smoking in designated areas and the sale of single stick cigarettes.

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New Delhi: There are “glaring gaps” in the laws governing tobacco consumption, including the rampant sale of single stick cigarettes, says a report by the National Law School of India University (NLSIU) released Wednesday.

The 50-page report, which was submitted to the Ministry of Health, calls for an amendment in the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Act (COTPA), 2003, and proposes several recommendations.

The gaps highlighted include “exemptions in the Act that allow smoking in designated areas, and the display of tobacco advertisements and tobacco products at its point of sale”. Over five sections, the report elucidates the history of tobacco control legislation in India, the international scenario, analyses the COTPA and other judicial interventions and suggests amendments to the law.

“The recommendations from the NLSIU report need to be implemented urgently and immediately if India is serious about reducing tobacco use and protecting Right to Health guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution of India,” former Chief Justice of India J. Venkatachaliah has written in the foreword of the report.

Also read: How ‘tobacco nationalism’ is preventing ITC from becoming India’s Pinduoduo

‘The glaring gaps in legislation’

The first issue that the report highlights is that the preamble of the COTPA legislation does not recognise the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco (FCTC) that was adopted in 2005.

“Best practice tobacco control legislation should include legislative objectives that explicitly refer to a state’s obligation to implement the WHO FCTC, as well as incorporate the elements of FCTC-based definitions and substantive measures to assist in comprehensive interpretation and implementation of the law,” the report states.

It adds that words like “advertisement” and “sponsorship” remain “ambiguous and vague”, which can lead to difficulties in effectively imposing a ban on the promotion of tobacco.

It also states that the regulations around designated smoking areas are difficult to implement.

“This lack of clarity has led to certain states (namely Gujarat, Punjab, Rajasthan and Maharashtra) to adopt Acts that amend COTPA, as it applies within the relevant state, to specifically ban Hookah bars,” it further states.

Among the other gaps highlighted is the participation of tobacco companies in Corporate Social Responsibility programmes that include “health promotion, environment protection, primary education, afforestation, and watershed development”.

The report states that this “gives the impression that companies are responsible”.

On the issue of the sale of single stick cigarettes, it states that a consequence of the practice is that consumers “are not regularly exposed to the warning labels the law requires on tobacco packaging”.

The recommendations

The report gives 11 recommendations that include the removal of the provision that allows for designated smoking areas, the prohibition of tobacco product displays in stores and kiosks and a stop on “the sale of single stick cigarettes, loose tobacco products and smaller packs”.

Further, it also states that the law should specify that advertising of tobacco is banned on internet-based mediums while increasing the penalties for violations.

“The aim of these recommendations is to make the Indian legal framework on regulation of tobacco more robust and more effective in achieving its goals,” the report highlights.

Also read: What a smoky bar can teach us about the ‘6-feet rule’ during Covid pandemic



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