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Assam mulls tobacco ban

Health and education minister Himanta Biswa Sarma in Dispur on Tuesday. Picture by UB Photos

Guwahati, Feb. 19: The Assam government is preparing to impose a ban on the sale of all products containing smokeless tobacco owing to their harmful effect on health.

Health and family welfare minister Himanta Biswa Sarma today said the state government has decided to bring a legislation to ban sale of all kinds of products containing smokeless tobacco, including gutkha. He hoped the ban would go a long way in preventing cases of oral cancer in the state.

Chewing tobacco and gutkha are reportedly responsible for 90 per cent oral cancer cases in India.

Sarma said the government took the decision to ban smokeless tobacco products after holding wide-ranging discussions with a large cross-section of people. “We will try to bring the bill in the next Assembly session in March. If it doesn’t become possible, then it will be again tabled in the Assembly session scheduled for June-July and in the interim period, an ordinance will be promulgated to bring the ban into effect.”

He said the proposed legislation would contain stringent punishment for violating the ban. The minister said even though most of the states have imposed a ban only on gutkha, which is a mixture of pan masala and tobacco, Assam has decided to ban gutkha and other forms of tobacco.

“It is because ban on gutkha only won’t work as people may buy pure tobacco and pan masala separately and then mix them and prepare gutkha,” Sarma said.

Sarma, however, declined to comment when he was asked about the steps the government is planning to ban cigarettes and other smoking tobacco products. Recently, Gauhati High Court registered a PIL against the state government’s failure to ban gutkha and other smokeless tobacco products in the state.

The court registered the petition based on a letter written by the Assam chapter of Indian Dental Association to the high court Chief Justice A.K. Goel expressing serious concern over the state government’s failure to take stern and appropriate action to ban sale and use of gutkha and other smokeless chewing tobacco products.

Provincialisation

Sarma, who also holds the education portfolio, said the first list of non-provincialised (popularly known as venture) educational institutions, which will be provincialised by the state government, would be published in the first week of March. Sarma said the list of the institutions to be provincialised in the first phase will be uploaded on the government’s official website.

The minister also announced that 11,800 teachers would be recruited for lower primary and middle English schools by the end of this financial year.