The ban on the sale of loose cigarettes and the mandatory registration of retailers of tobacco products has finally come into effect in the hill state. The Governor issued notification on Himachal Pradesh Prohibition of Sale of Loose Cigarettes and Beedis and Regulation of Retail Business of Cigarette and Other Tobacco Products act, 2016 earlier this week.The Bill was passed by the Vidhan Sabha during the monsoon session in August this year.
The prohibition of sale of loose cigarettes has come in the wake of a study that 75 per cent of cigarettes are sold loose across the country. The study establishes that single cigarette is affordable for the youngsters, while buying a pack is not only costly but increases the risk of being caught by parents. Sale of loose cigarettes is a public health risk as the single cigarettes, which are taken out from the pack, do not carry health warnings. As also, it leads to massive tax evasion. The registration of tobacco vendors will in a way regulate the tobacco sales.
There is a provision of imprisonment up to six months and a fine of up to Rs 50,000 which will be doubled in case of a second time violation in case of contravention of the Act.There may be some loopholes in the act, as per critics, but it is certainly a good step and may help the youngsters stay away from tobacco use to a great extent, if implemented strictly.The state has over 21 per cent of its adults using tobacco.
And all said and done, Himachal Pradesh Health and Family Welfare minister, Kaul Singh Thakur has been pro-active in tobacco control agenda in the state. He is well versed with the issue, having got international exposure on the issue.The concern, however, is that there are glaring gaps in Himachal when it comes to implementation even of the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act.
Unlike Punjab, the bureaucracy and the health safety officials in Himachal have not shown much keenness to get the things going on ground seriously.The National Tobacco Control Programme (NTCP) is not much visible in public, as also the action by the health safety officials. There are very less awareness campaigns against tobacco use in HP.
The staff handling the National Tobacco Control Programme is different than that on the regulation side. It is often shuffled unmindfully at the government level with no stability at all, keeping with the seriousness of the work in tobacco control.The transfers sometime are so quick that the health officials don’t get time to understand this sensitive issue and perform.The much talked about support of the Voluntary Health Association in HP has gone missing in the tobacco control agenda in the state, with its own changing priorities and the indifference of the government to rope in NGOs for this work.
Himachal Pradesh was declared smoke free in 2013 and Shimla city in 2011. A cursory look in the field makes it hard to believe as people are often seen smoking in the open, even at the notified public places. The boards against smoking or selling of cigarettes or tobacco products are visible in the educational institutions, but they are just there for the heck of it. There is none to counsel the college students, who take to smoking under peer pressure, and none to stop them from smoking in and around the colleges located in rural areas.
The towns may see the Police or the health safety officials active to an extent to check smoking at public places but it goes on openly in the remote areas. The training of implementing agencies at different levels is lacking and the monitoring mechanism at the state level is non-functional.
The state government had banned the sale of single cigarettes through a notification in November last year. But, it went on with ease, as is the case of gutkha, khaini, which could be seen ( selling at a high cost) in the market even after their sale was banned in Himachal some years ago. The Himachal government has shown the will to enact laws on tobacco control. Better, if it ensures proper implementation on the ground to see the real results.