Sunday 06 December 2020

News Analysed, Opinions Expressed

Issues | Smoking

Enjoy Goa, but No Smoking, please

 

Festivities like carnival and Christmas in Goa, which have become more famous due to sponsored floats and full-night dances, are likely to get severely affected with the state government banning any form of tobacco advertising or smoking in public places.

While National Organisation of Tobacco Eradication (NOTE) has played a major role in getting the most comprehensive legislation in the country passed in the tourist state, equally strong opposition it has received from the Tobacco Institute of India (TII).

The Goa prohibition of smoking and spitting bill, which was unanimously passed in the recently concluded monsoon session, not only prohibits smoking and spitting in public places but also bans sale of cigarettes to minors or selling, distributing and storing it in the close vicinity of a school or place of worship.

While not displaying "no smoking zone" boards in public places would be a cognizable offence, stringent fines would also be levied for advertising or attempting to promote smoking or chewing tobacco, including gul, tobacco paste, pan masala, zarda or ghutka.

Taking a step forward from a legislation in Delhi, where only notices, circulars, wall papers, pamphlets, displays, hoarding or visible representation of any light, sound or gas etc are banned, Goa has now also banned advertising in the form of writing instruments, stickers, symbols, colours, logos, trade marks, displaying it on t shirts, shoes, sportswear, caps, carry bags, telephone booths etc.

Besides public transport, the places of public use consist auditoria, cinema/conference/ seminar halls, hospitals, health institutions, amusement centres, restaurants, eating houses, hotel lounges, other waiting lounges, public offices, court buildings, educational institutions, libraries, bus stands, ferry boats, places of worship, sports stadium and even beaches.

"It will adversely affect the tourist traffic Goa attracts while the hotels and restaurants would go out of business, resulting in lay offs and making hundreds of people jobless", complains A C Sarkar, director of TII, in a strong protest letter written to the state government.

He even claims that whole Goa would be covered under the provision, as per which storage, sale and distribution of these smoking or chewing products would be prohibited within 100 metres around places of worship or educational institutions.

Prime market places in almost all Goan villages are located near places of worship and educational institutions. "panchayat authorities should drive them away in the villages while all small shops around such places in the cities should be shifted", feels Dr Sharad Vaidya, chairman of note. He does not expect firm action immediately, but hopes the government would start acting.

With the original bill going to the select committee, Dr Vaidya managed to get powers even for recognised NGOs to file complains before the court for violation of the provisions in the legislation. But he also suspects the tobacco lobby for getting the clause pertaining to ban on advertising excluded from the bill which came before the house. It was later included.

Dismissing the TII's claim that advertising does not increase the amount of smoking or chewing tobacco, Dr Vaidya is also happy that it would put a total ban on all kind of sponsorships the tobacco companies were involved in, including for the carnival floats and night dances etc.

"It will not affect the dealers but the retailers as the tobacco companies may find other innovative forms of promotion", feels Datta d Naik, local dealer of golden tobacco ltd. But he admits that sponsorships for cultural or sports events and distribution of sportswear etc will now stop.

Being a tourist state surviving on hotel industry, bars, taverns and pan-cigarette shops in the tourist belt, it appears that the legislation would be used by the "authorised officers" to collect one more hafta rather than enforcing the law. "it may give impetus to corruption and underhand dealings. But that doesn't mean that the act is useless", argues Dr Vaidya.

But it is also a fact that craze of smoking and chewing ghutka has spread like wild fire among even the school children all over the state. A little market survey conducted in this regard reveals that half of the income of any small shopkeeper is on the sale of cigarette and ghutka, which appears hard to disappear from the close vicinity of educational institutions.

"But rather than making an impractical legislation which violates principles of freedom of commercial expression and denies right to smoke", suggests Sarkar, "we will develop a programme to discourage smoking and chewing tobacco among minors. Instead of stopping sponsorships, the tobacco industry will adopt a voluntary code of conduct and self-regulation".

With the bill presently lying before the governor for assent, the government is yet to react to the suggestions made by the TII. In fact, the legislation has been widely appreciated in the house as well as by the public.


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