Public policy expert bats for strong tobacco control laws to make India a developed nation

Public support will boost the government’s efforts to successfully create a tobacco-free and healthy India: Kumar Shubham, Director, Sewa International

New Delhi, 13th September 2022: Arresting the loss of 13 lakh Indians every year due to tobacco products is essential to building a healthy India, a key requisite for India to metamorphose into a developed nation by 2047. Tobacco control is a key parameter in PM Modi led ‘Healthy India’ campaign. However, to enable the government to take stringent tobacco control measures, it is imperative that people are aware of the imminent dangers of tobacco products and fully support such measures.

Noted public policy expert Mr. Kumar Shubham, Director of Sewa International, an international organization supporting Indians in need globally, observed that amendments to the tobacco-control law COTPA can play the most effective role in curbing availability and accessibility of tobacco products, as people honour the defined protocols. He was participating in a discussion organized by Tobacco Free India, a citizen’s group.

It is worth noting that nearly 13 lakh Indians succumb to tobacco-related diseases every year, in addition to causing colossal burden on the country’s healthcare system and the affected families. The problem further gets compounded with youth and children chiefly being on the radar of tobacco companies, informed Mr. Shubham while speaking to the host of the discussion Mr. Arun Anand, author and senior journalist.

The powerful tobacco lobby has a big role in luring people, especially youth and kids to tobacco consumption. Not only do tobacco companies engage in surrogate advertising but also display advertisements of tobacco products at points of sale (PoS) to attract children towards tobacco products while purchasing toffees, candies etc. Calling for a ban on surrogate advertising and on display of ads at PoS, Mr. Shubham said, “PoS are smaller versions of the checkout counters we see at malls that reinforce the idea of buying products that we may otherwise overlook. Ban on display of ads at PoS can prevent children from getting lured into trying out these products.”

Another area of concern is the designated smoking areas at airports, restaurants, hotels, and resorts. These smoking zones are not only the source of hazardous secondhand smoke but also tacitly legitimize smoking. However, Indian agencies follow international rating agencies that accord higher scores to resorts, restaurants, and hotels that have designated smoking areas. Taking a cue from countries that have gone smokefree, India must ban designated smoking areas even if that translates into a lower rating for hotels or resorts, as it helps save non-smokers from several diseases. Several hotel operators in our country agree that going completely smoke-free helps attract more customers, especially families, which ultimately results in enhanced profits.

One of the biggest culprits for the growing challenge of smoking in the rural areas, according to Mr. Shubham, is easy access to entertainment content that promotes the consumption of tobacco products. Elaborating on his observation, he said, “the content on the internet is urban-centric and promotes smoking as a tool to overcome the adversities of life. Young minds get influenced and try to emulate the on-screen actions.”

As India gears up to evolve into a developed nation by 2047, the country can follow in the footsteps of Israel, where people just walk up to strangers and stop them from smoking at public places. To empower the citizens in India to stand up against tobacco consumption, the government will need to instill confidence through a strong tobacco-control law, which can be achieved through COTPA amendments that propose making public places 100% smoke free. The union government has prepared the draft of proposed COTPA amendments which will soon be passed in the Parliament.

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