Health Minister Harsh Vardhan has written to Defence Minister Arun Jaitley urging him to stop the sale of tobacco products in defence canteens, which puts “thousands of armed forces personnel at great risk”.
In the letter to Jaitley, the health minister wrote, “I strongly feel that we need our armed forces to be physically and mentally fit and avoid using substances that compromise their health, fitness and well being. Therefore the armed forces establishments must stop selling tobacco products through their canteens and the ministry may revisit its policy of making available cigarettes and other tobacco products at a discount to the members of the services… All defence establishments including naval ships should be declared ‘No smoking” zones’.”
A senior official at the Army headquarters, however, said military canteens do not sell tobacco products. “We do not sell tobacco products in our canteens, leave alone at subsidised rates,” the official said.
Harsh Vardhan also expressed apprehensions that efforts to remove tobacco products from military stores may be resisted by the tobacco industry, but insisted the defence ministry should not be deterred.
The minister backed his letter with data from the World Health Organisation, which estimates that tobacco kills nearly 6 million people each year.
When contacted, Harsh Vardhan said, “Our Army men should not make a hue and cry over this move. Instead, they should react positively to the anti tobacco efforts by the health ministry. We are serious about our intentions. As far as the defence ministry is concerned, I hope they take a relook at the subsidised sale of tobacco and cigarettes at defence canteens.”