Health Ministry Plans to Stop Cigarette Shops From Selling Candy, Soft Drinks

In an attempt to protect children from tobacco addiction, the ministry has asked state governments to ensure cigarette shops sell only tobacco and not any consumer goods.

New Delhi: In a letter to state governments this month, the Union health ministry has asked for municipal authorities to authorise tobacco shops. As a second step, the ministry has asked municipal bodies to make this authorisation conditional – that these shops would have to be exclusive tobacco shops and cannot sell anything else such as “toffees, candies, chips, biscuits, soft drinks,” as these are “essentially meant for non-user, especially children.”

The health ministry says they believe this will be beneficial towards “achieving the objective of preventing the children/ non-user from the exposure to tobacco products.”

The letter has been sent to chief secretaries of state governments by the economic adviser of the health ministry.

In July, the Delhi government directed tobacco companies to remove all advertisements from tobacco shops in the country. This followed a Reuters investigation into the work of tobacco major, Philip Morris International Inc, which has allegedly been colluding with officials in the region to influence tobacco policy.

According to the Global Adult Tobacco Survey for 2016 and 2017 in India, 28.6% of adults aged 15 and above use tobacco in some form. This is about 26.7 crore people.

The latest survey records a reduction in tobacco consumption amongst youth in the 15-24 age group. Here, consumption has decreased from 18.4% to 12.4%. Among minors (aged 15-17) and adolescents (aged 18-24) too, the survey records a reduction of 54% and 28% in tobacco consumption. The age of initiation into tobacco use has also increased from 17.9 to 18.9.

The prevalence is higher in rural areas where 19.9 crore adults consume tobacco, whereas 6.8 crore adults consume tobacco in urban areas. More adults use smokeless tobacco (19.9 crore) as opposed to smoking tobacco (ten crore).

India has a range of laws that govern tobacco sale and consumption in India, with an eye on public health. Smoking in public places is an offence under Indian law.

The health ministry’s letter draws upon several legislations, including the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act, 2003 (COTPA), the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015 (JJ Act) and the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 (FSS Act). It also cites Article 47 of the Indian constitution, which says it is the “duty of the state to raise the level of nutrition and the standard of living and to improve public health.” It also says the “State shall endeavour to bring about the prohibition of the consumption except for medicinal purposes of intoxicating drinks and drugs which are injurious to health.”

The COTPA was enacted to regulate the production, trade and advertisement of tobacco products in India. The Act has a special focus on protecting children and young adults from tobacco addiction. For example, it regulates that cigarette shops cannot be set up within 100 yards of educational institutions.

The JJ Act prescribes rigorous imprisonment up to seven years for giving children tobacco products.

The FSS Act prescribes safe and wholesome foods, and inter alia, prohibits tobacco and nicotine in food products.

Indian law also prohibits the direct and indirect advertising of tobacco products and has prescribed for pictorial warnings about the harms of tobacco on cigarette packets.

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