New Delhi, Dec 4:
A proposal to ban the sale of loose cigarettes has run into rough weather with MPs of the ruling dispensation asking the government to review the plan. Civil society and activists expressed shock and disbelief over the development.
Days after Health Minister J.P. Nadda had informed the Rajya Sabha that the matter would be presented before the union cabinet soon, a delegation of National Democratic Alliance MPs met him and Parliamentary Affairs Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu Wednesday to discuss the issue regarding the adverse livelihood impacts of the proposed move on tobacco farmers.
Official sources said that at the meeting, MPs were believed to have cautioned the ministers against hurrying on this issue without providing alternate livelihood opportunities to the tobacco farmers.
Naidu is understood to have suggested an inter-ministerial consultation on the issue.
The recommendations for the ban were made by a committee formed by the health ministry, to review Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Act, 2003 (COTPA).
The expert panel had recommended “prohibition on sale of loose or single stick of cigarette, increasing the minimum legal age for sale of tobacco products, increasing the fine or penalty amounts for violation of certain provisions of the Act as well as making such offences cognizable”.
The move to ban loose cigarettes had come close on the heels of the government deciding to make it mandatory for tobacco companies to devote 85 percent space on packets of cigarettes and other tobacco products to warn against the ill effects of tobacco consumption.
Till now, tobacco companies were required to devote only 40 percent of the space on packets to pictorial warnings against tobacco use.
The development has caused an outrage amongst public health advocates, civil society and tobacco control activists who strongly decried the government’s backtracking and its “completely absolving” itself of the responsibility of safeguarding the health of people.
“It appears that government is willing to endure health care loss of Rs.104,500 crore to earn Rs.6,000 crore from export of tobacco… the total cost of treating three major tobacco related diseases is several times more,” said Bhavna Mukhopadhyay, executive director, Voluntary Health Association of India.
“There can be no doubt that the industry is using every trick in the book to blackmail the government,” she added.