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Killer stick sold outside Calcutta schools

A walk around the city revealed how cigarettes and other tobacco products are within reach of schoolchildren
A police officer in Lalbazar admitted to shops near educational institutions selling cigarettes but said this was a “minor offence”.

Rith Basu   |   Calcutta   |   Published 18.01.19, 08:48 AM

Cigarettes are openly sold through kiosks in the vicinity of most schools in Calcutta, some of them right outside the gate, despite a ban on the sale of tobacco products within a radius of 100m of any educational institution.

The Telegraph had reported on Thursday that a 20-city survey by the Voluntary Health Association of India found 233 out of 487 points of sale violating Section 6 of the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Act, 2003.

While the survey did not cover Calcutta, a walk around the city revealed how cigarettes and other tobacco products are within reach of schoolchildren the moment they step out of their campuses.

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Syed Amir Ali Avenue-Gurusaday Road crossing

  • Proximity to nearest school: Cheek by jowl
  • What we bought: A stick of Wills Navy Cut for Rs 10
  • What we saw: The man at Variety Stores, the second of three kiosks next to one another, said no student from the nearby school had approached him for cigarettes. “Their drivers are the ones who sometimes buy cigarettes. They ask for expensive brands like Classic Milds and Dunhill, which makes me wonder how they can afford these,” he said.

The shopkeeper said he would continue to sell cigarettes. “This shop came up long before the school did,” he claimed. 

Short Street-Wood Street crossing

  • Proximity to nearest school: Just across the road
  • What we bought: A stick of Wills Navy Cut for Rs 10
  • What we saw: Four kiosks standing close to each other stock cigarettes. A college student who appeared to be a regular customer approached one of the vendors, Arjun Nath, and extended an arm with the words: “Ek (one) cigarette.” She did not name the brand but Arjun knew what she wanted.

One of the other vendors said the police would drop by once in two or three months to collect Rs 300-500 each, depending on the size of the kiosk. “They only ask us not to display the cigarette packets,” he said.

If ever they put up a pretence, it was missing on Thursday. 

AJC Bose Road near Missionaries of Charity

  • Proximity to nearest school: Opposite the school.
  • We bought: A stick of Wills Navy Cut for Rs 10
  • What we saw: No cigarette shop along a stretch at least 200m on either flank of the thoroughfare, but there were three one after the other opposite the campus. The owners identified themselves as Vinod Shaw, Sanjay Shaw and Raju Shaw, none of them related to each other. “Very few students buy from us. We are not here for them. Passers-by and office-goers form our main clientele,” Raju said. 

AND THE EXCEPTION...

Rajdanga

Metro found a shop opposite the school gate but it only sold cakes, biscuits and mineral water. There are a few cigarette shops near the Rashbehari Avenue connector, all of them at a distance of almost 200m from the school building.

Park Street, near South Park Street Cemetery

  • Proximity to nearest school: Outside the school gate
  • What we bought: A stick of Wills Navy Cut for Rs 10
  • What we saw: The man at Ashok Pan Shop said he keeps cigarettes hidden till the school gives over. He dropped the name of a “babu from the nearby police station” when asked why he sold cigarettes and other tobacco products in violation of the 100m rule. Paras Shaw, another vendor selling cigarettes on the opposite pavement, said he was not the owner. “I am only standing in for my uncle.” 

Mandeville Gardens

  • Proximity to nearest school: Separated by a narrow lane
  • What we bought: A stick of Wills Navy Cut for Rs 10
  • What we saw: Plastic footballs hanging from a rod in a kiosk on the pavement. Cakes and biscuits were in glass jars. A pan of tea was simmering over an oven. There were no cigarettes on display. When this Metro reporter asked shopkeeper Gautam Paik if he stocked cigarettes, he at first pretended not to hear. The question was repeated, at which he pulled out a packet of Wills.

Asked if he was aware of the 100m restriction, Gautam said he had been doing business here since 1989 and nobody had objected to him selling tobacco products. “But I don’t sell cigarettes to children,” he said.   

AJC Bose Road near Minto Park

  • Proximity to nearest school: Across the thoroughfare
  • What we bought: A stick of Wills Navy Cut for Rs 10
  • What we saw: Two kiosks with cigarettes and other tobacco products openly displayed and a constant stream of customers, although none of them was a minor.

On being asked if he knew about the ban, the owner of Sashi Pan Shop said he had never heard of the 100m rule. He claimed that no school student had ever bought cigarettes from him.

A vendor sharing a tarpaulin shade with a fruit-seller said his kiosk was 40 years old. 



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