Strong anti-tobacco law needed to save youth and dreams of aspiring parents, say experts from various walks of life

New Delhi: While appreciating various progressive steps taken by the Government under tobacco control legislation, top health experts and an activist on Friday unanimously said that the time has come to strengthen the law by completely banning designated smoking areas (DSAs) and ads of tobacco products at Point of Sale (PoS).

 

Every year, over 13 lakh people die due to consumption of the deadly product in the country. The stringent COTPA (Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act) Amendment Bill will not only help save several lives but also reduce burden on the healthcare system, the experts said.

 

Dr Shalini Singh, a cancer specialist and Director, ICMR-National Institute of Cancer Prevention and Research, Shweta Shalini, a BJP spokesperson from Maharashtra and Dr Archana Dhawan Bajaj, a fertility expert opined that “gaps in the COTPA Act are like a tacit approval from the authorities to allow tobacco consumption as it sends the message among the smokers and youth that its Ok to continue with their habit.”

 

At a webinar held by the Tobacco-Free India, a citizens group, Dr Shalini Singh focused on the need to spread awareness about tobacco related cancers and plethora of other diseases. During the discussion, she revealed that the tobacco industry is now trying to trap youth through ‘synthetic nicotine’ which is as harmful and addictive as the nicotine but does not come under the legal purview.

 

Drawing attention towards secondhand smoking which is equally harmful, Dr Shalini Singh said, “many countries are now moving towards the tobacco endgame strategy. They have also started banning tobacco in streets, beaches and outdoor parks. Smoking zones allowed in our country in indoor spaces like hotels and restaurants pose huge health hazards for non-smokers and we have to ban them immediately,”

 

Shweta Shalini, youth BJP leader elaborated on the urgency and the immediate need for action to fight against the tobacco menace, given that in India, over 13 lakh individuals per year face death due to the deadly product. “If we want to make India, a world leader we must have healthy youth. But I feel that there’s a strong lobby working against the Government’s dream of becoming world leaders. If our youth and kids have ill health, India can never become world Guru,” she said.

 

India has the second-largest tobacco-using population in the world. Indian National Health Policy 2017 comprehensively includes the aspect of tobacco control and sets out the target for achieving 30 per cent relative reduction of tobacco use by 2025 from the levels in 2009-10.

 

“It’s good that smoking is completely banned in many public places and workplaces. The law, however, permits the establishment of smoking areas or spaces in airports, hotels having 30 or more rooms, and restaurants having seating capacity for 30 or more. This gap needs to be plugged”, Shweta Shalini asserted.

 

Dr Archana Dhawan Bajaj, a well-known gynaecologist focused on tobacco-induced infertility among couples, which, she said, is rising at a disturbing rate in the country.

 

She cautioned that smoking and tobacco use can have a serious impact on the fertility of both men and women, and consequently the quality of life in pregnancy as well as negative health on the unborn child, miscarriage, and death.

 

Dr Bajaj explained that if a woman is a regular smoker, then it has a double effect on a woman’s fertility. Smoking can harm both the eggs and the uterus. It not only affects her egg quality, but can also have an endometrial effect.

 

From the male’s perspective, the carcinogen quality of cigarettes in general affects the motility of the sperm and excessive smoking can lead to poor sperm count and other fertility problems, she added.

 

“A total ban on smoking in indoor public places will protect men and women from the harms of second-hand smoke, help smokers quit and reduce smoking among youth. Let’s have healthy parents and children for better India,” said the gynaecologist.

 

The speakers felt that the policymakers, medical fraternity, and community need to come together to raise awareness; formulate a strategy to cut down production of tobacco, impose higher tax on the product besides amending COTPA Act and setting up more cessation centres to help people quit the addiction.

 

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