Sell tobacco to a minor and you could go to jail for seven years

The Crime Branch has roped in the Anti-Narcotics Cell to enforce the drive.

February 18, 2016 12:00 am | Updated 07:32 am IST - Mumbai

Elvy Musikka, 72, who suffers from glaucoma, smokes a marijuana cigarette, one of many she regularly receives from the U.S. Government, at her home in Eugene, Ore., Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2011.  For the past three decades, the federal government has been providing a handful of patients with some of the highest grade marijuana around. The program grew out of a 1976 court settlement that created the countrys first legal pot smoker. (AP Photo/Don Ryan)

Elvy Musikka, 72, who suffers from glaucoma, smokes a marijuana cigarette, one of many she regularly receives from the U.S. Government, at her home in Eugene, Ore., Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2011. For the past three decades, the federal government has been providing a handful of patients with some of the highest grade marijuana around. The program grew out of a 1976 court settlement that created the countrys first legal pot smoker. (AP Photo/Don Ryan)

Armed with the new Juvenile Justice Care and Protection Act, 2015, enacted in January this year, the Mumbai Police Crime Branch has launched a citywide crackdown on commercial establishments selling tobacco products to minors.

The Act was amended last year after the controversy surrounding the punishment given to a minor in the Nirbhaya rape case. The amendment changed the age limit from 18 to 16 years for juveniles accused of serious crimes.

Simultaneously, the Act also introduced several stringent sections for crimes committed against minors, which attract strict punitive measures.

Among them is Section 77, which makes giving any kind of drugs, liquor or tobacco products to children punishable by law, and Section 78, which forbids use of children for vending, peddling, carrying, supplying or smuggling any drug or liquor.

“The earlier Act had Section 25, which only forbade giving liquor or intoxicants to a child and made it punishable with up to three years of imprisonment. Section 77 of the new Act specifically mentions tobacco products and imposes a sentence of seven years of rigorous imprisonment and a fine of up to Rs 1 lakh,” said DCP (Enforcement) Pravin Patil.

Following the amendment, the Social Service Branch and the Juvenile Aid Protection Unit were instructed to initiate a crackdown on offenders, and the first arrest was made in Matunga on Tuesday. SSB officials, in a joint operation with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), arrested a vendor for selling cigarettes to minors on Tuesday afternoon.

The shop, located near the Don Bosco High School in Matunga, was within 100 yards of an educational institution and in violation of state government rules. Officials said the additional charge was brought against the vendor.

Harish Baijal, Joint Commissioner, FDA, said: “We had earlier conducted a citywide drive against sale of tobacco products to minors under the Cigarette and Other Tobacco Products Act (COTPA) and collected over Rs 7 lakh in fines. The fine, however, was only Rs 200 in each case and did not deter the offenders. When the amended JJ Act was brought into force on January 15 this year, we got in touch with the Mumbai police as the FDA does not have powers to enforce the JJ Act.” Dr Pankaj Chaturvedi, a cancer surgeon with Tata Memorial Hospital, said despite the view that legal action against those selling tobacco products to minors is too strong a step, it is important to understand the perspective.

He added, “There has to be a reason why the government has approved the Act in spite of a strong lobby that tries to subvert anti-tobacco laws at every level. Two crore people in Maharashtra use tobacco products, and in a survey, the mean age of starting the habit was under 17 years. This means that out of the two crore tobacco users, one crore started using tobacco when they were below 17 years. Further, tobacco is the reason behind 50 per cent cancer cases and 60 per cent cases of heart disease.”

The Crime Branch has roped in the Anti-Narcotics Cell to enforce the drive, and will also get in touch with all schools and colleges in the city to make them aware of the amended Act and its implications.

“We are currently working out a standard operating procedure (SOP) to go after those selling tobacco products to minors in a focused and organised way. We have also trained Child Welfare Officers in all police stations in the Act and its enforcement,” said ACP Rajdoot Rupawate with the SSB.

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