Tobacco is the biggest threat to public health and India can achieve the target of 30 per cent relative reduction in its use by 2030 by accelerating the process of enforcing laws at the Centre and State level, said Dr Vinayak M Prasad, Unit Head, No Tobacco (TFI) at the WHO Department of Health Promotion. In an exclusive interaction with BusinessLine, he said  there is also a potential for India to further raise tax on tobacco products, as the taxes levied on them are not the highest in the world. 

Tobacco control in India is implemented through Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act (COTPA) and National Tobacco Control Programme (NTCP). Both these laws, programmes and  policies largely need to be implemented at the State level, said Prasad, which can help the country in becoming tobacco free. 

“WHO has been saying this time and again that there is no limit to raising taxes on tobacco. Real price increase leads to decline in tobacco use, as per various WHO and  World Bank reports. Also, it is to be noted that the provision of excise duty over and above GST is available to the Government of India. So this can be an effective way to curtail the use of tobacco,” Prasad said.

Illicit trade

The tobacco industry will raise arguments against it citing illicit trade, but with stronger revenue protection and  enforcement measures as enshrined under the Illicit Trade Protocol( ITP) of WHO-Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), the problem of illicit trade can be addressed. India is a party to both FCTC and ITP and committed to implement all its provisions, he further added.

OTT platforms violate rules

There are some actions needed at national level as well as strengthening effectiveness of film rules and other programmes as OTT platforms are violating these rules. Incidentally, India is the first country in the world with a comprehensive set of rules on depiction of smoking scenes in movies, TV etc. 

“I am also glad that the government of India is looking at the gap in the laws of COTPA and trying to further strengthen it. It is important to quickly bridge gaps such as smoking rooms at airports and large hotels” he stated.

“India has less than 27 crore tobacco users but movies  on OTT platforms make us believe everyone in India is a smoker. No scene starts without smoke or alcohol. This does not reflect the true picture of India. It needs to stop. The Indian Government, after a lot of efforts, had imposed reasonable restrictions in relation to showing smoke scenes in movies and serials. Those rules should be applied on OTT platforms also,” Prasad said. 

“India has done pretty well in comparison to other large countries  such as China , Indonesia where there are challenges due to tobacco farming and other livelihood concerns which impede adoption of stronger laws,” Prasad added. 

World No Tobacco Day

WHO is launching a campaign for World No Tobacco Day in May this year in which the life cycle of tobacco production, manufacture, consumption will be showcased to highlight the environmental damages from tobacco. How tobacco plantation leads to water table depletion, deforestation and soil erosion, will also be shown, as per the WHO official. 

According to the WHO report on tobacco and its environmental impact, between 340 and 680 million kilograms of waste tobacco products litter the world each year. Since the 1980s, cigarette butts have consistently comprised 30-40 per cent of all items picked up in annual international coastal and urban clean-ups. Both plastic bottles and cigarette butts are the most devastating pollutants in the world. Tobacco industry must be held responsible for the collection of cigarette butts or it should be penalized for creating environmental pollution, he added

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