Ridiculous to bar cigarette shops from selling chips and soft drinks. Will hit the poor

BJP government's new rule to keep children away from tobacco products seems injurious to roadside vendors.

 |  3-minute read |   28-09-2017
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The BJP government, in its three-and-a-half years, has come up with a lot of regulations, some of which seem bizarre, if not downright ridiculous.

A new notification from the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare definitely is mix of both. As per a Mint report, the ministry has said that shops licensed to sell tobacco products will not be allowed to sell any non-tobacco products that may attract the attention of children. 

“It is felt that the regulation of tobacco products can be made more effective. It will be appropriate to develop a mechanism to provide permission or authorisation through municipal authority to the retail shops who are selling tobacco products,” said Arun Kumar Jha, economic adviser in the ministry of health and family welfare.

“Further, it would also be appropriate to make a condition or provision in the authorisation that the shops authorised for selling tobacco products, cannot sell any non-tobacco products such as toffees, candies, chips, biscuits, soft drinks, etc, which are essentially meant for non-user, especially children,” added Jha.

cig-_092817034419.jpgPhoto: Reuters

While it is a move that they claim aimed at preventing exposure of children to tobacco products, it is one that will have severe repercussions on the daily economics of small cigarette shops.

Of course, one cannot deny that cigarettes are bad for health, but seeing that it is a legal product, it should be subjected to fair regulations. But sadly it isn’t so. Over the years, every government, including the present one, has made a point of increasing taxation on tobacco and tobacco products.

This report in The Economic Times from 2016 states that there has been 22 per cent shrinkage in legal cigarette sales in India, mainly due to cumulative increase of 118 per cent in excise duties on tobacco products since 2012-13 which has led to growth of smuggling of cigarettes in the country due to the high tax arbitrage.  

A 2014 study, published in the Asian Pacific Journal of Cancer Prevention, said that nearly 75 per cent of all cigarettes in India are sold as single sticks. While there are regulations against that as well, the government enforcement on the same is close to zero. Loose cigarette sticks or not, the profit margin on cigarettes is something only tobacco companies enjoy and not the streetside vendors. It is, therefore, obvious that these shops resort to diversifying their product range.

From tea to biscuits to snacks to soft drinks, all of these “secondary” products in a tobacco kiosk are as important to the vendor as the tobacco itself.

As it is, there are strict laws against the sale of tobacco or tobacco products to minors. Why this additional restriction? Giving or selling tobacco to a child attracts up to seven years of rigorous imprisonment under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015. According to the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006, tobacco and nicotine cannot be used in any foodstuff. 

The health ministry has emphasised on various rules and regulations in place to prevent tobacco exposure.

The Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act, 2003 (COTPA), specifically prohibits smoking in all public places, prohibition of direct and indirect advertisement, promotion and sponsorship of cigarettes and other tobacco products, prohibition of sale of cigarettes and other tobacco products to minors and within 100 yards of any educational institution and display of health warning, including pictorial warning on ill-effects of tobacco use on the packages of all tobacco products.

Is this new rule just another masterstroke on the battle against tobacco consumption in India? It is unlikely.

Taxation, anti-smoking laws in public places and visual representation of cancer on cigarette packs may have had some effect on consumers, but that is far and few.

This new rule, not allowing cigarette vendors to sell non-tobacco products, appears to be just another short-sighted measure that will do nothing but disrupt these micro-businesses.

Also read - Foods smokers must eat if they can't kick the habit

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