Political Will & Good Governance essential for effective Tobacco Control Act
28 January 2015, Chennai, Tamil Nadu
Expert reviewers from varied areas of work reviewed the COTPA (Amendment) Bill, 2015 for views and comments at the “State Level Consultation on COTPA (Amendment) Bill 2015” organized by Tamilnadu People’s Forum for Tobacco Control (TNPFTC) on 28 Jan, 2015.
The State Level Consultation was inaugurated by S. S, Rajagopalan, Social Activist in the presence of Mr. S. Cyril Alexander, State Convener of TNPFTC, Mr. K. P. Marimuthu, Convener, Tamilnadu Organic Movement and Dr. E. Vidhubala, Associate Professor, Cancer Institute.
The Department of Health and Family Welfare has placed amendment bill of COTPA (2015) in Public Domain as part of Pre-Legislative consultations and has asked for views/comments on the amendment bill. The Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Act, 2003 or COTPA is an Act of Parliament of India enacted in 2003 to prohibit advertisement and regulation of tobacco business in India.
Mr. S. Cyril Alexander, State Convener of TNPFTC explained that the State Level Consultation acts as a medium to gather views/comments from different stakeholders in regards to the COTPA (Amendment) Bill 2015 and provide concrete, effective & practical suggestions to the Department of Health and Family Welfare. He explained how Tobacco Industries would definitely challenge this bill. Civil society must act proactive manner for the tobacco control bill to be implemented effectively. He Cited the progress of the campaign against the involvement of tobacco industries in CSR and how an inter-ministerial committee has been formed for it. He also stressed on the removal of Tobacco Promotion board present at the National and State Level since it violates Article 5.3 of Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). Only when we start doing preventive work, would the tobacco control be effective. From saying that don’t smoke, the situation has come which states that smoking is banned.
S. S, Rajagopalan, Social Activist gave his strong opinion that Political Will and Good Governance is very much needed for the effective implementation of the Tobacco Control Act. He urged the Civil Society Members to support the Government in the process of implementation. Citing example of how law enforcers are themselves violating the rules, he stressed that without political will, the bill will not be effective. He appreciated the amendment and mentioned that from tobacco control, there is a need to move to complete ban on any of the tobacco products. He stressed on the need to “Stay Away” from non-tobacco products of Tobacco Industries. Even though it is small step, it will ensure that the Tobacco Industries do not acquire any benefit and also the promotional activities of the tobacco industries. He urged the participant to not use any of the non-tobacco products manufactured by ITC.
Dr. E. Vidhubala, Associate Professor, Cancer Institute appreciate TNPFTC for organizing the State Level Consultation and urged everyone to give in their views/comments on the Amendment Bill. She mentioned how in two decades time, there is a need to develop the infrastructure by 4 to 5 times in the Cancer Institute due to the increase in the number of individuals affected with cancer. She cited how out of 100 patients admitted every day, 43 of them have cancer due to tobacco. It is important to be proactive and send it the views/comments as individuals and organizations to the Department of Health and Family Welfare.
R. Arul, Pasumai Thayagam insisted on the need for the tobacco control community on being strong and effective to ensure that the Bill becomes an Act. He applauded the Act stating that it has definitely reached to the next level in tobacco control. Following are the points that were highlighted.
- The draft bill majorly limits direct and indirect advertisement of tobacco products.
- Prohibition of sale of tobacco to person below the age of 21 years.
At the same time, he questioned as to whether these changes will be implemented. Dr. Harsha Vardhan who majorly advocated against tobacco is no longer the Health Minister. Even before the amendment was published, tobacco industries had spoken to the farmers and started advocating against this policy. While the tobacco control community is at the initial level, the tobacco industries are much ahead. He also stressed that implementation has to be strong. He experience his uncertainty as to whether the Tobacco Industries will let the bill become an act and encouraged the tobacco control community need to work together to ensure that this bill become true.
The major suggestions that are to acquire the spotlight in the State Level Consultation are the following:
- Sections for Committee to prevent Tobacco Industries from conducting and participating in any Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has included in the draft bill.
- The Tamil Film Industry were rampant with tobacco control violations with movie posters, trailers, teasers displaying smoking scenes and most importantly not properly displaying the statutory warning which is an effective awareness generation tool. There are various loopholes in COTPA which lets the violators get away stating trivial reasons. Thus COTPA needs to tightened around these loopholes surrounding movies.
- It is an appreciable action that the draft bill has included sections prohibiting the sale of single or loose cigarettes. This enhances the effectiveness of the usage of pictorial warning in cigarettes packets. However additional clause has to be inserted to ensure that loose cigarettes are not placed in cigarette packets and sold at a low price. This can hamper the purpose behind the ban on single or loose cigarettes.
- The special section on ban on the chewable tobacco products present in the National Food Security Act must be reflected in COTPA.
- The tobacco industries are in the constant process of finding ways to attract the young consumers. Organizing children specific events is one strategy adopted by them. Tamil Nadu has set the example through the 242 Government Order which restricts of children/faculty from Educational Institutions from participating in events conducted in Tobacco Industries. Even with the existence of such a thought through Government Order, the events by Tobacco Industries have been continuing. The details present in 242 Government Order has to be incorporated in COTPA 2015.
- There is a need now to properly address and implement the prohibition of Tobacco Products Direct Advertisement at the Point of Sale. There has been an increase in the violations relating to this prohibition and hence it must be properly addressed.
- The Rajasthan became a model state for other by prohibiting smokers to be in the teaching profession. Incorporation of this in COTPA would benefit the student community in a major way.
- Stricter implementation on the prohibition of sale of tobacco products around 100 meters of an educational institution has to be looked upon.
Activists, Academicians, Advocates, Health Professionals, Members from traders association, Social Work Students and so on came together to provide their varied views/comments on the draft bill.