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Plan to spread anti-tobacco campaign to villages

Jorhat, March 10: The Jorhat district tobacco control cell will extend its drive against smoking in public places to the rural areas.

The Jorhat unit was the first such cell in the state to launch this campaign under the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products, Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution Act (COTPA), 2003, in 2011.

The cell also fined former transport commissioner Swapnanil Baruah for smoking inside the Jorhat Circuit House in October 2011.

As part of its drive in the rural areas, the cell will organise awareness meetings for newly elected gaon panchayat office-bearers.

The gaon panchayat secretaries under the anti-tobacco law are empowered to fine (challan) people violating the prohibitions of the act.

Smoking in public places, selling tobacco products within 100 yards of an educational institute and selling tobacco products to minors are offences under the anti-tobacco law and offenders could be penalised by imposing fine up to Rs 200 for each violation.

Jorhat along with the Kamrup (metro district) was chosen by the National Tobacco Control Programme in 2008 among the 42 districts across the country for a pilot project on the no-tobacco campaign.

In 2012, the state government decided to extend the campaign to all other districts taking Jorhat as a role model.

The Jorhat cell’s nodal officer, Bhaktimoy Bhattacharjee, who is also the senior district health official, told this correspondent that as the drive against the anti-tobacco law offenders was gaining momentum in the urban areas, the cell had decided to extend the same to the villages in the district.

Bhattacharjee said the campaign initiated against various offences under the anti-tobacco act had a positive impact in the urban areas with people coming to know about the law and incidence of violations were coming down in recent times. He said so far the cell has collected over Rs 30,000 as fine since the drive was started on September 12, 2011. The anti-tobacco team comprises district tobacco control cell members, police, Jorhat municipal board members and at times officials deputed by the deputy commissioner from some other government department.

Unlike urban areas where awareness on legal as well as health aspects of violating the anti-tobacco law was spread, in the rural areas there is a need to educate people on the legal provisions for violating the act, he said. “We have decided to organise awareness meetings for the gaon panchayat representatives as they could carry the campaign at the grassroots level,” the nodal officer said.

He said with the gaon panchayat secretaries, who are government employees and empowered to impose fines, too would be briefed on the procedure to be followed to challan an offender.

Charaibahi Higher Secondary School on the southwestern outskirts of the town was the first school in the state to be declared tobacco-free in September 2009.

Till date, the Jorhat cell has declared 63 educational institutes in the district tobacco-free and the list includes a madarsa at Rajamaidam. A xatra (Garmur Satra) in Majuli too was declared tobacco-free last year.

Sahpuria village on the western outskirts here was the first village in the state and in the country in March 2011 to be declared tobacco-free and the cell is now working to declare five more villages the same by May 31 on the World No Tobacco Day.