The Maharashtra government has banned the sale of loose cigarettes and beedis, in a bid to reduce the consumption of tobacco and to comply with the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act (COTPA) 2003. Before this, Chhattisgarh had banned the sale of loose cigarettes earlier this year, while Karnataka banned the sale of loose cigarettes, beedis and chewing tobacco in 2017.
As per the Tobacco Free Union, over 1 million people die from tobacco-related diseases in India every year.
Why did Maharashtra take this step?
The government’s aim is to make sure that users are able to see the mandated warnings on cigarette packaging.
Under COTPA, tobacco products need to be sold with graphic health warnings on their packaging and loose cigarettes do not comply with this rule. Section 7 of the Act mentions, “ No person shall, directly or indirectly, produce, supply or distribute 6 cigarettes or any other tobacco products unless every package of cigarettes or any other tobacco products produced, supplied or distributed by him bears thereon, or on its label 1 [such specified warning including a pictorial warning as may be prescribed.]”
The Act also mentions that the warning should be specified on not less than one of the largest panels of the packet in which the cigarettes or any other tobacco products have been packed for distribution, sale and supply.
Further, India is a signatory to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, whose core tobacco demand reduction provisions include regulating the packaging and labelling of tobacco products and product disclosures. India ratified the WHO FCTC in 2004.
What is the pattern of tobacco use in India?
According to the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) 2016-2017, 10.7 per cent of all adults (99.5 million) in India smoke tobacco and 28.6 per cent of all adults (266.8 million) use tobacco (smoked or smokeless tobacco).
Among the tobacco smokers, roughly 4.4 per cent are cigarette smokers and 7.7 are bidi smokers. In India, the average monthly expenditure of a daily cigarette smoker comes around to about Rs 1,100 and that of a daily beedi smoker is estimated to be around Rs 284. As per this survey, Maharashtra has the lowest prevalence of tobacco smoking in the country.
Further, over 91 per cent of current smokers in the country believe that smoking causes serious illness.
The GATS survey was a household survey conducted on over 74,000 people aged 15 years or more. The survey also showed that 68 per cent of smokers, 17 per cent bidi smokers, and 50 per cent of smokeless tobacco users in India purchase loose tobacco.
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Are such bans effective?
The effectiveness of this ban remains to be seen and depends on how widespread and stringent the implementation is.
According to a 2017 study published in the Journal of the Scientific Society, raising tax on tobacco products is one of the key ways of controlling tobacco consumption. Even so, while on one hand making tobacco products dearer may lead to an overall decrease in consumption of tobacco globally, on the other hand, it can lead to an increase in the sale of loose cigarettes.
This study found that 57 per cent of cigarette smokers (3.46 million approximately) in India (based on data from the Global Adult Tobacco Survey, India 2009–2010) bought loose cigarettes.
The authors of this study also note that the proportion of buying loose cigarettes decreased with increased levels of education and was least among government employees. But this study associated loose cigarette buying with decreased intensity of smoking. “This may be due to increased taxes leading to increased buying of single cigarettes,” the study says.
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