Amit Yadav & Monika Arora, Public Health Foundation of India
Two months after announcing larger and stronger pictorial health warnings on all tobacco products, and 10 years after ratifying the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, the Government of India is proposing to amend and strengthen the national tobacco control law (COTPA 2003), to better align with both the FCTC and international best practice. As part of pre-legislative consultation, the government is seeking input from key stakeholders and the general public. Comments and views about the Amendment Bill will be accepted until 15 February 2015.
The proposed amendments include:
- Protection of tobacco control policies from the tobacco industry: One objective of the proposed law is “to protect the development and implementation of public health policies with respect to tobacco control from the commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry,” to comply with Article 5.3 of the FCTC.
- Amendments to the definitions to avoid ambiguity: Key terms like advertisements, indirect advertisements, medium, promotion, public place, sponsorship, trademark and tobacco industry have been clearly defined under the published draft amendments.
- Protection from exposure to tobacco use: The draft amendment proposes to prohibit smoking in all public places but allows designated smoking areas at international airports. Since smokeless is a prominent form of tobacco use in India, this section of the Bill includes prohibition on use of any kind of tobacco products in public places.
- Prohibition on tobacco advertisement, promotion and sponsorships (TAPS): Draft amendments comprehensively prohibit TAPS, including surrogate advertisements and brand extensions. COTPA 2003 allowed advertising at point of sale and on packs. The draft Bill proposes to remove these concessions. It also prohibits sale of any article resembling tobacco products and distribution of free samples of tobacco products. It also prohibits sponsorship, through any mark or trademark or brand name of cigarettes or other tobacco products.
- Prohibition on corporate social responsibility by tobacco companies: The Amendment Bill prohibits any promotion of tobacco products through contribution or otherwise, or through an activity under corporate social responsibility, by or of a company engaged in the manufacture or production of cigarettes or any other tobacco products.
- Protection of minors from exposure to tobacco: The proposal increases the age of access from 18 to 21 years, while also proposing to prohibit sale of tobacco products in loose and single sticks.
- Packaging, labeling and product regulation: The proposed Bill mandates pictorial warnings on the principal display areas similar to provision of COTPA 2003, but also mandates disclosure of content information (and emissions of each cigarette) on tobacco product packages.
- Increased penalties on violation of the law: Pecuniary penalties for compoundable offences will be increased from the present INR 200 (USD 3.3) to INR 1,000 (USD16.5). Other offenses in the Bill are proposed to be “cognizable” and pecuniary penalties therein are increased by about 10 times from the current ones.
- Licence cancellation for violation: To ensure compliance with the provisions, the amendment Bill authorizes competent authority to suspend or cancel license of the manufacturer or producer, importer, supplier, distributer or seller, for a period as the competent authority may deem fit.
The proposed amendments will go a long way towards advancing tobacco control in India. However the draft Bill still requires further strengthening to be in line with global best practices. This pre-legislative consultation period provides an excellent opportunity to tobacco control experts in India to review challenges faced in enforcement of COTPA 2003 and feed those experiences into drafting the current Amendment Bill. It is important to make the Bill comprehensive and robust to avoid its exploitation by the tobacco industry.
Feeback can be provided by 15 February 2015 to:
Shri R. S. Negi
Under Secretary (Tobacco Control)
Department of Health and Family Welfare
Room No-425 ‘C’, Nirman Bhawan