Assam health and education minister Himanta Biswa Sarma enters the Assam Assembly on Tuesday and (right) a boy sells tobacco products in Guwahati. Pictures by UB Photos
Guwahati, July 16: Assam today took a step towards becoming the first state in the country to ban all smokeless tobacco products with the state government tabling a bill in the Assembly to this effect.
The Assam Health (Prohibition of Manufacturing, Advertisement, Trade, Storage, Distribution, Sale and Consumption of Zarda, Gutkha, Panmasala, etc, Containing Tobacco) Bill, 2013, which was introduced in the Assembly by health and family welfare minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, should easily sail through given the ruling Congress’s strength in the House.
Sarma later told reporters that if the bill is passed in the Assembly, Assam would become the first state in the country to enact such a “historic” legislation.
The bill makes violation of the prohibition a penal offence, cognizable and non-bailable. “Any violation of the provisions of the bill will invite minimum imprisonment of three years,” Sarma said.
He said the objective of the bill was to improve public health and prevent incidence of cancer and other health hazards and addiction among the people of the state.
“I hope the bill will be passed in the Assembly without any hassle. I believe every member of the House is aware of the life-threatening health ailments associated with products containing tobacco. The prime objective of introducing the bill is to eradicate diseases like cancer,” he said.
Sarma denied that there was any delay in tabling the bill. He also denied reports that he had differences with chief minister Tarun Gogoi over the bill.
“It takes time when a bill is drafted and sent to different departments for their observation and clearance. The state exchequer will incur a loss of Rs 20 crore per annum in the form of revenue due to banning of smokeless tobacco products,” he said.
In the Assembly, AGP legislator Phani Bhusan Choudhury suggested that smoking tobacco should have been included in the bill too since it is one of the leading causes of cancer.
Sarma replied that in the first stage the government wants to prohibit sale and consumption of smokeless tobacco and depending on its success, it would go for banning smoking tobacco.
The bill says anybody manufacturing, advertising, storing, trading in and distributing smokeless tobacco products shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend up to seven years and with a fine not less than Rs 1 lakh and which may extend up to Rs 5 lakh.
Anyone found consuming smokeless tobacco shall be punished with a fine up to Rs 1,000 for the first offence and Rs 2,000 for the second and any subsequent offence or offences.
In case of offence committed by a company, the company as well as every person who at the time of the commission of offence is in charge of and responsible for the conduct of the company’s business, shall be deemed to be guilty of the offence and liable to be proceeded against and punished accordingly, the bill states.