Sale of tobacco products in India only through licensed shops

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Licensed shops will not be permitted to sell any non-tobacco products such as biscuits, toffees and chips that are essentially meant for non-tobacco users, especially children.

Selling tobacco products through licensed shops will prevent mushrooming of outlets selling tobacco products and shrewd marketing of tobacco products to kids.

In a body blow to tobacco companies, the Health Ministry is tightening the screws on marketing tobacco products to children. As part of the regulation of sale, the Ministry has asked all the State governments to develop a mechanism through the municipal authority to provide “permission/authorisation” to retail outlets selling tobacco products. Shops authorised to sell tobacco products will not be permitted to sell any non-tobacco products such as biscuits, toffees and chips that are essentially meant for non-tobacco users, especially children.

“We believe that such as initiative will prove to be beneficial in achieving the objective of preventing the children/non-user from the exposure to tobacco products,” the September 21 letter says.

Sorry, no shrewd marketing

“Essentially, the Ministry desires to license the sale of tobacco through authorized vendors only. Like alcohol, tobacco products too can be sold only by licensed retail outlets,” says Dr. Pankaj Chaturvedi, cancer specialist at the Tata Memorial Hospital, Mumbai and an anti-tobacco crusader. “Shop keepers purposefully store non-tobacco products that especially children consume to lure kids to get exposed to tobacco at an early age. Selling tobacco products through licensed shops will prevent mushrooming of outlets selling tobacco products and shrewd marketing of tobacco products to kids.”

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Under the Cigarette and Other Tobacco Products Act (COPTA), 2003, sale of tobacco products to minors is prohibited. However, as the 2009-2010 Global Youth Tobacco Survey (GYTS) revealed, over 56% of minors polled who bought cigarettes in a store were “not refused purchase because of their age”. Also, giving or selling tobacco to a child attracts up to seven years of rigorous imprisonment under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015.

The 2009-2010 GYTS survey also found that in 2009 nearly 15% of children (19% of boys and over 8% of girls) in India who were 13-15 years used some form of tobacco. Another 15.5% of children belonging to the same age group who had never smoked before were likely to begin smoking the following year. The overall tobacco use among school students aged 13-15 increased from 13.7% in 2006 to 14.6% in 2009.

“The world over it has been proven beyond doubt and all hidden industry documents made available through the Minnesota agreement have revealed that tobacco industry targets youth and children as its new consumer base,” says Dr. Chaturvedi.

According to him, most tobacco companies manufacture consumer goods exclusively used by children. India’s leading tobacco manufacturing company also manufactures biscuits, wafer, noodles, chocolates and notebooks. And, by default, such products are sold in shops that also sell tobacco products. The latest initiative by the health ministry is all set to change this and make the sale of tobacco products to children difficult.

But the biggest challenge will be in enforcing the regulation. Though most States have banned the sale of chewing tobacco and smoking in public places is not permitted across India, violation is more a norm than an exception.

In the larger context, the latest initiative by the Health Ministry puts to rest the any doubt about the government buckling under pressure brought in by tobacco companies. In April, the Ministry of Home Affairs cancelled the FCRA license of the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI), India’s largest public health advocacy group. Among other allegations, the reason cited for the cancellation of the license was that PHFI had used foreign funds to lobby parliamentarians for anti-tobacco policies.

Published in The Hindu on September 26, 2017

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