MCC Health Officer says implementing COPTA will ‘overburden’ corporation

It is common to see boards of cigarette or gutka brands prominently displayed at small shops and shops. Though it has been more than four years since the approval of the rules for Control of Tobacco Products Act (COTPA), 2004, which apart from public smoking also prohibit tobacco-related advertisements, the rules are apparently not enforced in the city.

Apart from official apathy to the issue, there is very little awareness among shopkeepers.

A large cross-section of shopkeepers and traders who spoke to The Hindu said the companies had offered to create a back-lit with the shop name and the brand logo. While some shops obtained these banners before the implementation of the rules in 2008, many got them recently.

A shopkeeper in Jeppu said a tobacco company paid around Rs. 50,000 to spruce up his paan stall. Now, a large logo of the cigarette brand overlooks the road.

These are in clear violation of Section 5 of the Act, which states that “no person engaged in, or purported to be engaged in the production, supply or distribution of cigarettes or any other tobacco products shall advertise… display, cause to display, or permit or authorise to display any advertisement of cigarettes or any other tobacco product.”

The penalties of violation, lists the Act, include two years in prison or Rs. 1,000 fine (for first conviction); or five years or fine up to Rs. 5,000 for the second conviction. Repeated convictions can involve revoking of trade licence and seizing of property.

U.S. Vishal Rao, Director of the Cancer Prevention Project, Institute of Public Health, said these advertisements play an important role in influencing potential tobacco consumers.

At the point of sale, he said, it was important to make the consumers think twice before purchasing tobacco and to create awareness on the detrimental effects of tobacco consumption.

“Shops that sell cigarettes are supposed to display boards that pictorially depict the hazardous effects of consuming tobacco, and one more that says sale of tobacco to minors is prohibited. However, this is hardly seen…Instead, companies blatantly advertise,” he said.

He said that the onus of implementation was on the municipal councils, which had the power to revoke trade licences.

C.M. Sudarshan, in-charge Health Officer at the Mangalore City Corporation, said the implementation of COTPA had not yet started. “After the rules were framed, a couple of district-level meetings with the then Deputy Commissioner V. Ponnuraj were held.

It was decided to form an anti-tobacco cell, and there were discussions on where the fine amount, if collected, should be deposited. However, since then, nothing has been done on this front,” he said.

Though there is no proposal to implement the scheme, any implementation will be difficult as the department is facing staff shortage – out of 35 sanctioned posts, only eight officers have been appointed.

“We are already looking after the responsibilities of solid-waste management, monitoring the plastic ban, keeping in check communicable diseases. COTPA will be an overburden,” he said.

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