Guwahati: The proposed amendments in the law regarding cigarettes and other tobacco products are are more likely to increase illicit tobacco trade in the country thus leading to more consumption rather than lessening it, according to a survey report prepared by a not-for-profit consumer rights organisation. Regulating unorganised tobacco trade and bringing in “enabling laws” instead of “punitive and aggressive legislation” are more needed, it claimed.
The proposed COTPA (Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act) Amendment Bill, 2020, seeks to disallow retail sale of loose sticks of cigarettes, prohibits sale of tobacco products to persons below 21 years, put controls on in-shop advertising and promotion, among others.
In a statement, Consumer Online Foundation (COF) said it conducted the survey among 5,116 people across the country between April and July to analyse ground realities, opinions, concerns and voice of consumers.
On the findings of the study, COF founder trustee Bejon Misra said it “brings to the fore that the proposed amendments in the tobacco control law are more likely to increase illicit tobacco trade in the country thereby encouraging tobacco consumption instead of discouraging it.”
“There is a strong need to regulate unorganised tobacco trade and bring equitable taxation policies to safeguard Indian consumers from inferior quality tobacco products. We need enabling laws and not punitive and aggressive legislations that can cause mental agony and depression,” he said.
As many as 77.50 per cent of the respondents indicated a preference for smuggled but untaxed and low-quality tobacco, as per the report.
The illicit tobacco trade is a major cause of concern for the government and law enforcement agencies, with a significant amount of this trade happening through the unfenced border that the North-eastern states have with countries such as China, Myanmar and Bangladesh, it said.
The focus of the Bill is mainly on cigarettes while the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said the most prevalent form of tobacco consumption in India is smokeless tobacco and commonly used products are ‘khaini’, ‘gutkha’, betel quid with tobacco, and ‘zarda’, the report added.
It said the survey findings also revealed that ‘beedi’ and chewable tobacco comprise over 75 per cent of tobacco consumption in India, followed by cigarettes at 20.89 per cent.
The report said though the Bill proposes to enhance punishments for failure to adhere to the law and envisages tackling black marketing and smuggling of tobacco products, it does not assign any guidelines for the law enforces in this regard.
As per the survey, 66.50 per cent of the respondents feel inconvenienced by second-hand smoke (a mixture of the smoke from the burning tip of a cigarette and the smoke exhaled by a smoker) and 64.40 per cent think that designated smoking rooms are indeed helpful.
This implies that the proposal to shut down designated smoking areas in airports, restaurants and hotels will increase the exposure of people to second-hand smoke, the statement said.