NEW DELHI: Smokers may soon have to cough up for every puff. For, the Centre has accepted a recommendation made by a panel of experts to ban the sale of loose cigarettes, which according to general estimates, accounts for nearly 70 per cent of the sales.
According to Union Health Minister J P Nadda’s reply to the Rajya Sabha, the government is also planning to raise the legal age for tobacco consumption to 25 from the current 18. “The expert panel has recommended prohibition on sale of loose or single stick of cigarette, increasing the minimum legal age for sale of tobacco products... The ministry has accepted the recommendations of the committee,” Nadda told the Upper House.
Another proposal under consideration is increasing the fine for smoking in public from Rs 200 to a whopping Rs 20,000. Penalty for violation of other provisions of the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act, 2003 may also go up and such offences may be made cognizable, Nadda said.
The recommendations of the panel, headed by former Delhi government principal secretary Ramesh Chandra, aim to make smoking less affordable for teens. They are in line with the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s framework convention on tobacco control which states that countries “shall endeavour” to prohibit such sales. India is a signatory to the convention. The committee was appointed by previous Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan. Its proposals have been circulated in a draft note for inter-ministerial consultations, Nadda told the House. On receiving comments from various ministries, the same would be discussed by the Union Cabinet.
The most-awaited reply would be that of the Finance Ministry as cigarette industry contributes nearly Rs 25,000 crore in tax revenue. If implemented, cigarette sales are expected to take a hit of 10 to 20 per cent. In an indication of things to come, shares of major tobacco companies fell sharply on Tuesday. Shares of ITC, India’s largest cigarette maker, fell nearly 7 per cent to Rs 348.60, while Godfrey Phillips, which manufactures the Red & White brand, slumped by 11.5 per cent to an intra-day low of Rs 2,880. While a single cigarette costs Rs 10, a pack of 20 cigarettes costs between Rs 30 to Rs 150 depending on the brand. Officials in the Health Ministry hope the monetary loss would deter smokers as they would now have to shell out more.
The ban, however, if properly implemented may help the country reduce the health costs of smoking. According to a report by the Public Health Foundation of India, total economic costs attributable to tobacco use from all diseases in India in 2011 amounted to a shocking Rs 1.04 lakh crore. The following year, Indians smoked more than 100 billion cigarettes, Euromonitor International said.
The Health Ministry’s move is the latest in a series of steps initiated six years ago to curb smoking. But the implementation of these steps has been questionable. While smoking is banned in public places, blatant violations are easy to spot.