The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Rajya Sabha push to tobacco ad ban

New Delhi, April 9: After dithering for two years, the Centre today passed a Bill in the Rajya Sabha banning advertisement of cigarettes and other tobacco products. No surrogate advertisements will also be allowed once the Bill comes into effect.

“Neither direct nor surrogate advertisements will be allowed,” Union health minister Sushma Swaraj told the Rajya Sabha.

Any company flouting the rule will have to cough up a fine of Rs 1 lakh or face a three-year imprisonment. If it is found flouting the rule a second time, the penalty could be both — a fine of Rs 3 lakh and/or a three-year imprisonment.

The anti-tobacco Bill, which was pending before a Parliamentary Standing Committee since 2001, will now have to be passed by the Lok Sabha.

The Bill bars tobacco companies from sponsoring any cultural and sports event, besides banning the sale of cigarettes or any other tobacco products within a 100-metre radius of schools and colleges. It makes smoking in public places and selling tobacco products to minors an offence, leading to a fine of Rs 200.

All tobacco companies will have to put out specific warnings in English and one or more Indian languages on the labels of tobacco products, spelling out the nature of diseases they might cause.

According to the coalition of public health experts formed to support and aid the Bill, the tobacco lobby had mounted a lot of pressure on the government to scuttle the Bill. The trade unions were also opposing the Bill, saying it would deprive tobacco growers of their livelihood.

“Even from the economic perspective, tobacco farming is unfavourable. While the total excise from tobacco in India was Rs 6,934 crore in 1999-2000, the estimated health costs as a result of tobacco consumption was over Rs 27,000 crore during this period,” said health expert Ranajit Mukherjee.

According to WHO projections, by 2030, tobacco will be the leading cause of death, claiming 10 million lives a year. The proportion of tobacco-related deaths in developing countries is expected to increase from the current 50 per cent of global tobacco-related deaths to 70 per cent by the same time.

The incidence could be higher in India, with 1 billion cigarettes currently being smoked everyday. It is likely that tobacco-related deaths, which currently number 8,00,000-9,00,000 per year, would rise three to four-folds over the next 30 years.

Heart diseases, cancers and chronic respiratory ailments are among the principal causes of death due to tobacco, which causes more than 25 diseases. Recent research by the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research reveals that there are 7,00,000-9,00,000 cancer cases in India per year, with an estimated 2,50,000 cases being tobacco-related.

Responding to the concerns of some members about the livelihood of tobacco growers, Swaraj said: “The agriculture ministry is undertaking a survey to find out the alternate crops that can be grown in a soil that is conducive for growing tobacco.”

She also stressed that the existing machinery for enforcing laws will have to be used to step up monitoring. “We will have to depend on the sub-inspectors to enforce the law and cannot expect the additional commissioner or district commissioner of police to do their job,” said Swaraj.

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