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'Tobacco-free India' a right of every child; COTPA amendments should be passed at the earliest

New Delhi, Nov 20 (IANS)
A lot of kids as young as ten-year-old are becoming victim of tobacco, getting hooked to it for life-time. Ensuring 'tobacco-free India' to them is not only the responsibility of the nation but also the right of each child.

On the occasion of Child Rights Day on Saturday, Priyank Kanoongo, Chairman, National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) favoured early passage of the amendments to the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act or COTPA Act. Echoing similar views, Shweta Shalini, youth leader and Maharashtra BJP spokesperson too called it necessary to save the youth and next generation.

It is hoped that the Government might introduce the COTPA Amendments Bill in this session of Parliament which would help save lives of many youth and kids from tobacco menace. The proposed amendments have many provisions in the interest of younger generation which is falling prey to this tobacco menace and suffering premature death.

"It is hoped that the proposed COTPA Amendments will not only be passed by the elected representatives in full majority at the earliest but also discussed threadbare in Parliament so that a movement against tobacco is created across the country," the NCPCR Chief said. He also advised the MPs to hold interaction with the stakeholders in their constituencies on the issue. Also, State governments should hold review meetings with police from time to time to ensure that the law is implemented earnestly, Kanoongo said.

The amendments, which are in public domain for discussion, proposes increase in legal age for sale of tobacco products to 21 years, comprehensive ban on tobacco advertising and promotion and ban on sale of single sticks of cigarettes/bidis.

Kanoongo said, that, once the COTPA Amendments are passed, it will be at par with the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act which has stringent provisions, ensuring basic rights of children. It is hoped that the Government might introduce the COTPA Amendments Bill in this session of Parliament."

Shweta Shalini asserted that noose must be tightened around tobacco companies to end the conspiracies targeting these youth. She shared data of the Global Youth Tobacco Survey (GYTS) released recently by Union Health and Family Welfare Ministry. The activists shared their opinions at a webinar titled "How Stronger Tobacco Law Can Save Our Next Generation" organised by the Speakin, Indian's largest speakers platform, on the occasion of the Children's Right Day on November 20.

"It is a matter of concern that our future generation is in danger as has been revealed by the startling GYTS data. It says that 38 per cent of cigarettes, 47 per cent of bidi and 52 per cent of young smokeless tobacco users picked up the habit before their 10th birthday," she said.

Shalini who has been passionate for the 'Tobacco-Free India' cause, minced no words as she accused the tobacco companies for targeting the kids below ten years of age by hooking them for their life.

She equated tobacco industry and their products as demons and said, "We are confronting a demon and we have to unitedly fight against it. We have noted that people who begin smoking at a younger age are more likely to become addicted to nicotine and have trouble quitting. These tobacco companies know this fact. And hence for their vested interest they do not think twice before targeting these innocent lives."

But while it is a fundamental right of every kid to have a safe environment, we as an adult and as a nation it is our duty to ensure that our future generation has a healthy future, Shalini said while noting that India loses 1 per cent of its GDP to diseases and early deaths from tobacco use.

Slamming the tobacco companies for indulging in various nefarious tactics to hook the kids as young as ten years old for their profits, Kanoongo too held responsible the celebrities engaged in endorsing the harmful products as 'cool' that compromise the health of the kids.

"Once the COTPA Amendments get green signal from the Parliament, those endorsing surrogate advertisements will be behind the jail," he warned.

The NCPCR Chief also called for strict action against advertising companies engaged in high-blitz campaigns and experimental marketing for the tobacco firms to reach out to new customers and lure impressionable minds. "The names of these research and marketing firms should be revealed in public and it should be ensured that they are not engaged in any government surveys related to the welfare of kids so as to share data with the tobacco firms."

There are various studies that have scientifically established that if a person is kept away from tobacco till the age of 21 years and above, there is a very high probability that he/she will remain tobacco-free for the rest of his life. Several countries have now increased the minimum age of sale of tobacco products to 21 years and banned the sale of single cigarettes to control their easy accessibility and affordability to youth.

Increasing the minimum legal age for sale of tobacco products from 18 years to 21 years and banning the sale of loose/single sticks of cigarettes by amending COTPA 2003, is crucial to protect youth from tobacco as it has the potential to reduce tobacco use initiation and progression to regular smoking, experts feel.