Guwahati, Feb. 14: Dispur seems to have a fight on its hands over the implementation of the ban on sale of smokeless tobacco in the state.
The ban has run into a hurdle with the Greater Guwahati Paan Shop Business Association asserting that its members will not stop selling the products till the government provides them with an alternative source of livelihood.
The ban on sale and consumption of smokeless tobacco came into effect yesterday after Assam governor J.B. Patnaik had given his assent to the Assam Health (prohibition of manufacturing, advertisement, trade, storage, distribution, sale and consumption of zarda, gutkha, paan masala, containing tobacco) Bill, 2013.
It was necessitated, among other reasons, to check the spurt in incidents of cancer.
General secretary of the association, Balaram Sarkar, told The Telegraph that they had asked all their 20,000 members selling smokeless tobacco in Guwahati not to abide by the law until the government supported them for an alternative livelihood. “How can we stop our business without an alternative option? We had submitted memoranda to the governor and all the 126 MLAs last year seeking help but nothing has been done. So we will launch a massive democratic protest if action is initiated against any trader or paan vendors violating the law,” Sarkar said.
He said the association was not against the ban and instead supported banning all other “addictive” products, adding that there are four lakh registered paan shops selling smokeless tobacco in Assam.
The government seems equally determined with health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma today asserting the ban would be enforced strictly across the state and they would not bow down under any circumstances.
“In case the ban causes social insecurity and really threatens the livelihood of paan shop owners, the government will think of an alternative earning source for them. But they should refrain from hindering the enforcement of the ban,” Sarma told The Telegraph.
Sarma said the health department would write to all deputy commissioners tomorrow to enforce the ban from next week.
The B. Borooah Cancer Institute (BBCI) in Guwahati registers 8,500-9,000 patients every year, including a significant number suffering from oral cancer. Director of the institute, A.C. Kataki, said 90 per cent oral cancer patients registered by the institute are victims of smokeless tobacco.
In July last year, patients of the BBCI urged the state government to strictly enforce its new anti-tobacco legislation to save future generations. The Assembly passed the bill to ban smokeless tobacco on July 19 last year.
The state exchequer will incur a loss of around Rs 20 crore per annum in the form of revenue because of the ban.
According to the act, whoever commits an offence such as manufacture, advertisement, storage, trade and distribution of smokeless tobacco products shall be punished with imprisonment for up to seven years and fined not less than Rs 1 lakh, which may go up to Rs 5 lakh. It also says that anyone found consuming smokeless tobacco would be punished with fine up to Rs 1,000 for the first offence and Rs 2,000 for the second and subsequent offences.