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Why India needs to take a serious look at sale and consumption of tobacco

Projected tobacco-associated mortality in India is estimated reach 1.5 million by 2020

December 29, 2019 / 12:07 PM IST

US President Donald Trump signed a legislation this month to amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, and raise the federal minimum age of sale of tobacco products from 18 to 21 years.

It is now illegal in the US for a retailer to sell any tobacco product -- including cigarettes, cigars, hookah and e-cigarettes -- to anyone under 21 years of age.

The US Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) said these laws are designed to make tobacco products less accessible and less attractive to the youth.

Every day, nearly 2,500 kids smoke their first cigarette and over 400 kids become cigarette daily smokers in the US alone.

Status of tobacco control in India

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Most countries have put restrictions on minimum age for purchasing tobacco products. In India, the sale of tobacco products is prohibited to persons under the age of 18.

India also prohibits the sale of tobacco products via vending machines and within 100 yards of any educational institution.

In addition, several states ban the sale of single cigarettes and gutka and other forms of smokeless tobacco. Smoking is also banned in public places.

In 2014, India Today had reported that the Health Ministry was to set up a committee to recommend amendments to the Tobacco Regulation Act to raise minimum age for smoking from 18 to 25 years.

It is unclear what happened to the proposal of setting up a committee.

To be sure, even the 18-years age restriction is mere symbolic, as most sellers, who are small vendors, are hardly aware of it. Even if they are aware, chances of them following it is minuscule.

The sale of cigarettes, ghutka and beedis goes unabated in India. Consumption of beedis among the economically weaker sections, is worse because they contain three time more nicotine and five times more tar, increasing the risk of cancer among the most vulnerable sections of the society.

According to the Global Adult Tobacco Survey 2016-17 conducted by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai for the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Government of India, about 28.6 percent of the Indian population consume tobacco, of which 10.7 percent smoke tobacco, while the remaining use smokeless tobacco like ghutka, kaini and zarda. Studies have found that tobacco consumption is also high in tribal and backward regions of India.

Around 90 percent of the people who smoke knew that smoking is not good for their health.

It is well-established that tobacco consumption either through smoking or orally, causes various types of cancers and non-communicable diseases such as respiratory. Projected tobacco-associated mortality in India is estimated to be 1.5 million by 2020.

While a large number of these deaths and economic burden to families and government could be avoided, tobacco regulation in India is an extremely complex task. Implementation of tobacco control policies is also a major problem.It is time for the government to think seriously about regulating tobacco consumption more aggressively.
Viswanath Pilla is a business journalist with 14 years of reporting experience. Based in Mumbai, Pilla covers pharma, healthcare and infrastructure sectors for Moneycontrol.
first published: Dec 29, 2019 12:07 pm

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