Punjab Health Minister, Balbir Singh Sidhu, agreed to recommendations made by experts to increase the legal age to buy and use tobacco and nicotine products. The recommendations were made at a consultation held at the School of Public Health, PGI. Public health experts, police officials, officials from local government department, the State tobacco control cell, Punjab, IMA Chandigarh and some NGOs joined the consultation on ‘Why legal age to buy tobacco and legal nicotine products should be increased beyond 18 years?’
“Health Minister, Punjab assured the house that existing anti-tobacco laws will be implemented strongly and strictly. He also agreed with the proposal that the legal age to buy tobacco will be increased beyond the present limit of 18 years. He also assured expedite the process of licencing the tobacco vendors,” stated a release issued by PGIMER.
Dr Rana J Singh, Deputy Regional Director, The Union, said that tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable deaths worldwide and has been reaching pandemic levels among children and adolescents.
It is reported that nearly 5,500 children daily start using tobacco in India and about half of them continue to use it into adulthood. If the trend continues, tobacco will kill nearly 250 million of today’s children. The need to curb this pandemic is urgent. The emerging culture of Hookah bars and electronic cigarettes is another major cause of concern.
He emphasised the need to increase the legal age to buy and use tobacco beyond 18 years as an estimated 35 percent of users start using tobacco before 18 years of age and 70 percent before 21 years of age.
Dr Sonu Goel, Additional Professor at the School of Public Health, PGI, emphasised the need for targeted and focused tobacco use prevention interventions by adopting a comprehensive approach of increasing awareness and providing health education to varied stakeholders. He added that parents and teachers need to be role models for children and not use tobacco especially in their presence.
Dr Rakesh Gupta, Director Chemical Examiner Lab, Punjab stated that minors should be protected against the harms of tobacco as there is sufficient evidence about its increasing harmful effects among this group. He reiterated the need of a comprehensive awareness strategy for stakeholders. He said that police and local government departments like health and education along with other stakeholders need to strictly implement the Anti-tobacco laws and the Juvenile Justice Act.
He gave examples of countries like USA and Singapore where the legal age to buy tobacco has already been increased beyond 18 years. He also added that the Mohali Municipal Corporation has already passed a resolution to licence tobacco vendors.
He further suggested that nicotine in tobacco is as addicting as heroin and should be taken up under the flagship De-Addiction programme of the state government.