The Jharkhand legislative assembly approved, on 22 March, an important amendment to national legislation—The Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act, 2003 (COTPA)—that will strengthen tobacco control and protect the state’s 39 million people.
According to the most recent Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS 2016-17), nearly 39% of all adults either smoke tobacco and/or use smokeless tobacco (SLT) in Jharkhand; (SLT) is a particularly grave concern, for of the 39% of the total users, 35% use smokeless tobacco. Tobacco accounts for over 1.3 million deaths each year in India and is a known risk factor for advanced COVID-19 disease progression. (In June 2020, Jharkhand banned tobacco consumption in public places and made public spitting an offense under the Epidemics Diseases Act, 1897).
“We are quite confident that these revisions will change the trajectory of tobacco control in our state and further protect our people from the menace of tobacco-induced death and disease,” said Jharkhand Health Minister Shri Banna Gupta, who championed the state’s COTPA amendments.
The amendments include both new and revised provisions to hinder combustible and smokeless tobacco purchase and usage.
The Jharkhand amendment revises COTPA section 4—“No person shall use tobacco products in any public place”—expanding the definition of the word “use” so that it now pertains to the spitting of tobacco, as well as smoking. It also covers other important areas: a blanket ban on hookah bars prohibits their establishment and operation, imposing substantial monetary fines and jail time for offenders; the minimum age to purchase tobacco products is raised from 18 to 21; public smoking fines are increased from Rs 200 to Rs 1000; and tobacco sellers are strictly prohibited from operating within 100 meters of schools, hospitals, health institutions, courts, and public offices. The sale of loose tobacco products or single sticks is also forbidden.
“COTPA was a critically important piece of legislation and a very important starting point,” said Deepak Mishra, executive director of SEEDS, The Union’s partner in the state. “But amendments to cover more vulnerable populations—and enact additional restrictions to public smoking and tobacco use—are absolutely essential.”
Now that the bill is pending approval from the state governor—and then the President of India—Jharkhand will be busy instituting a new policy to make government offices tobacco-free. Starting on the first of April, all new public service applicants will be required to submit an affidavit in which they commit to fully abstaining from tobacco use in all forms. Current employees who use tobacco will not be required to sign similar documents. They are, however, prohibited from tobacco use in public places and highly encouraged to stop using tobacco by visiting cessation centers, using SMS services, or calling the national quitline.
“Government jobs are quite coveted, fairly lucrative and typically held for life,” said The Union’s Dr. Rana Singh. “This new policy will disincentivize young people from engaging in a habit that can destroy their health and disrupt their careers. Other states should also adopt similar progressive tobacco control steps to meet their tobacco control and larger public health goals.”