Raising the tobacco sales age to 21 has the potential to reduce tobacco use initiation and progression to regular smoking, a report released by the National Law School of India University (NLSIU), Bangalore says. The report has recommended the Union Health Ministry to increase the legal age for tobacco consumption in India from 18 to 21 years besides undertaking a number of other steps, even as the Centre is mulling to notify the same.
In the study titled ‘Tobacco Control Laws in India: Origins and Proposed Reforms’, NSLIU Professor Ashok R Patil has noted that countries are increasingly recognising that almost all people who become long-term tobacco users commence the practice while they are adolescents or young adults.
“The vast majority of tobacco users began before the age of 21. Raising the tobacco sales age to 21 has the potential to reduce tobacco use initiation and progression to regular smoking. As many as 14 countries — Ethiopia, Guam, Honduras, Japan, Kuwait, Mongolia, Palau, Philippines, Samoa, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, USA, and Uganda — have now increased the minimum age to 21 years,” Patil explained.
The report, which intends to analyse the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Act, 2003, claims to have identified gaps in the rules and proposed reforms. According to the law researchers, these recommendations were made in consonance with the recommendations of the parliamentary committees, best practices adopted by other countries and the guidelines specified under the global public health treaty on tobacco control by the World Health Organisation (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.
The recommendations specified in the report include prohibition on: designated smoking areas at public places by removing the provision that allows for any smoking areas or spaces; all point of sale advertising; tobacco product displays in stores and kiosks; all tobacco company sponsorship including corporate social responsibility activities; display of emission yield figures; and sale of single sticks, loose tobacco or smaller packs. Interestingly, the study also suggests a rule to specify that advertising is banned in the new internet-based medium.
Endorsing the study, former Chief Justice of India Justice M N Venkatachaliah called for the implementation of recommendations as soon as possible. “The State’s primary duty is of improving and protecting public health under the Constitution of India. The recommendations from the NLSIU report need to be implemented by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare immediately by amending COTPA 2003 if India is serious about reducing tobacco use and protect Right to Health guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution of India,” he said.
Meanwhile, Dr Vishal Rao, oncologist and Member of Karnataka’s high power committee on tobacco control, told indianexpress.com that tobacco products should be made inaccessible to save Indians from a “lifetime of misery and suffering”. “It is critical to strengthen the country’s tobacco control law to galvanise the ongoing efforts to check the tobacco epidemic in India, especially during these challenging times,” he said.
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