NDA wilts under smoke lobby

Ministry to consult tobacco farmers before taking a call on cigarettes

NDA wilts under smoke lobby

Days after a draft Cabinet note was circulated for inter-ministerial consultation on restricting tobacco sales for improving public health, the NDA government appears to have wilted under pressure from the tobacco lobby.

After chairing a meeting on Wednesday, attended by stakeholders from the government, tobacco industry and farmers, senior Union minister M Venkaiah Naidu and others suggested to the health ministry to consult tobacco farmers and industry and avoid taking “any decision in haste” on anti-tobacco measures such as banning sale of loose cigarettes.     

Only about a week back, Health Minister J P Nadda, who was present in the meeting, had apprised the Rajya Sabha in response to a written question that his ministry has accepted recommendations of an expert committee proposing among others ban on sale of loose or single cigarette sticks. The panel had also suggested raising minimum legal age for smoking from 18 to 25 years and imposing a heavy penalty of Rs 20,000 for smoking in the public.

A draft note for the Cabinet has been circulated for inter-ministerial consultation, Nadda had announced. The expert panel was constituted by pro-active Harsh Vardhan, who was surprisingly shifted out of the health ministry in the recent Cabinet expansion to head science and technology portfolio.

Venkaiah Naidu, as per a government press release, said in the meeting that a number of representations have been received from tobacco growing farmers associations of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka regarding likely adverse impact on their livelihood due to proposed amendments in Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Act, 2003, (COTPA).

“Proposed regulatory amendments in COTPA like banning sale of loose cigarettes will result in shift in consumption from cigarettes to other cheaper tobacco products like Bidis, chewing tobaccos etc, without curtailing the overall consumption,” the official communication stated.

The tobacco growing farmers have requested that without providing a suitable alternative crop they should not be deprived of their livelihood. India, which is the second largest tobacco producer in the world, earns more than Rs 6,000 crore foreign exchange annually through exports in this trade.

Nadda, pointed out release, assured that he will look into all issues pertaining to tobacco and areca nut growers and industry before taking any policy decision. The meeting also deliberated on the concerns of areca nut industry.

Easy availability of tobacco in the country is a major public health concern which is leading to more than a million deaths each year due to tobacco consumption related ailments such as heart diseases and respiratory disorders.

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