Tough tobacco policy on the anvil, sale of loose cigarettes set to be banned

New Delhi: Sale of loose cigarettes in India could be banned and the minimum age for selling tobacco products raised as the Health Ministry has moved a proposal to the Cabinet to this effect.

Health Minister J P Nadda told Rajya Sabha today that the ministry has accepted this recommendation of an expert panel, which it had constituted to give suggestions for reducing tobacco consumption, and circulated a Cabinet note for inter-ministerial consultations over the issue.

"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," he told the Upper House in a written reply to a question.

The ministry's move is in line with the World Health Organisation (WHO)'s framework convention on tobacco control which states that countries "shall endeavour" to prohibit such sales as it makes them more affordable for minors. India is a signatory to the convention.

One of the major recommendations of the panel, which was asked to review and suggest changes to the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act, 2003, is that the fine for smoking in public should be increased to a whopping Rs 20,000 from the present Rs 200.

It has also suggested that the minimum age for consumption of tobacco products be increased to 25 years from 18. The panel has recommended that public smoking be made cognisable offence, meaning that a person caught smoking in public can be prosecuted in a court of law.

A report by the Public Health Foundation of India, total economic costs attributable to tobacco use from all diseases in India in year 2011 amounted to a shocking Rs 1.04 lakh crore, a figure often quoted by previous Health Minister harsh Vardhan as he sought stringent measures to curb tobacco use.

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