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Why India’s Anti‑Smoking Laws Aren’t Working

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Nov 27, 2020

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“Glaring gaps” in India’s tobacco control legislation make it “ineffective for regulating tobacco consumption and exposure to second-hand smoke,” argues a new report.

The concern is not new. “Compared with many countries around the world, India has been proactive in introducing tobacco control legislation since 2003…. However, the legislation currently in place is not delivering the desired results — in terms of dissuading tobacco use and encouraging quitting,” Geoffrey Fong, a professor of psychology at Canada’s University of Waterloo, told Reuters. Fong is the co-author of a 2015 report drawing urgent attention to India’s “tobacco epidemic.”

The newer report was published by the National Law School of India University (NLSIU), the 50-page report calls for amendments to the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act, 2003 (COTPA) — pointing out loopholes and suggesting reforms.

“Though the Act intended to be a comprehensive law on tobacco control, it was adopted more than 15 years ago. Also, the law was developed before [the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control] came into force [in 2005 and was ratified by India]. Now, with the passage of time, lacunas in the Act have become apparent and proved to be a key challenge in terms of effective implementation [sic],” report author Professor Ashok R. Patil, chair of consumer law and practice at NLSIU, told the Financial Express.


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At present, 18 is the minimum age of purchasing tobacco products, which leads to early initiation to smoking, experts worry. Also, the sale of single cigarettes and other loose tobacco products not only makes smoking easily accessible and affordable but also prevents smokers from being “regularly exposed to the warning labels the law requires on tobacco packaging.” Moreover, the regulations around advertising and sponsorship in relation to tobacco products are vague and, in the absence of “uncomplicated language and unambiguous definitions” prevent authorities from effectively imposing a ban on tobacco promotion.

To bring Indian laws in consonance with WHO’s guidelines and ensure more effective control of tobacco use in the country, the paper has put forth 11 recommendations, which include eliminating designated smoking areas and tobacco product displays in stores, raising the minimum age of purchase from 18 to 21, increasing penalties for all COTPA violations, and putting a stop to “the sale of single stick cigarettes, loose tobacco products, and smaller packs.”

The report notes that more than 1 million Indians die due to smoking every year, with more than 200,000 deaths caused by secondhand smoke exposure. More than 35,000 deaths are due to smokeless tobacco use. Tobacco is known to damage lungs and cause cancer and other lung diseases. It also can impair smokers’ mental health, suggest emerging research.

“The State’s primary duty is of improving and protecting public health under the Constitution of India. The recommendations from the NLSIU report need to be implemented urgently and immediately if India is serious about reducing tobacco use and protect Right to Health guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution of India,” commented Honorable Justice M.N. Venkatachaliah, Former Chief Justice of India, while endorsing the report.

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Written By Devrupa Rakshit

Devrupa Rakshit is an associate editor with The Swaddle. She is a lawyer by education, a poet by accident, and a painter by shaukh. She has her own podcast called #DateNightsWithD on Spotify. You can find her on Instagram @devruparakshit.

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