Sale of Tobacco: Minors as consumers, A Serious Threat

The sale of tobacco is a concern of the health authorities in India. Consumers are now increasingly minors and this is an intentional move by corporations since youngsters are more likely to be addicted for longer periods. This article further analyzes this concern and suggests improvements.

Tobacco is the only legally available consumer product i.e. sale of tobacco which kills people when entirely used as intended.

-The Oxford Medical Companion (1994)

Tobacco is defined as, “a preparation of the nicotine-rich leaves of an American plant, which are cured by a process of drying and fermentation for smoking or chewing.” Tobacco was introduced to India in the 17th Century. Now, everyone is familiar with the word ‘Tobacco’ and the sale of tobacco and its products like cigarettes, pan masala, bidi, khaini etc.

There are approximately 120 million smokers in India. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), India is home to 12% of the world’s smokers, only second to China. The sad part is, almost everyone is aware of the consequences of smoking or the intake or sale of tobacco but only a few people are able to quit, such as the addiction. This situation was beautifully described in a Thai Anti-Smoking Commercial where everyone was made to realize the consequences of smoking by few children, who asked them for a smoke.

Topics Covered in this article

The Statistics Speak

Approximately 900,000 people die every year in India due to smoking as of 2009. As of 2015, the number of people smoking tobacco rose to 108 million, an increase of 36%, between 1998 and 2015. The alarming concern for the country is the increasing number of minors consuming tobacco. According to the Global Youth Tobacco Survey (GYTS), in 2009, nearly 14.6% of children (19% of boys and over 8.3% of girls) in India in the 13-15 age group consumed some form of tobacco, 4.4% smoked cigarettes while 12.5% used other forms of tobacco such as bidis and chewing tobacco. Along with that, 15.5% in the same age group were likely to begin smoking the following year. More than 5500 minors start tobacco consumption daily.

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Section 2(k) of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000 defines ‘juvenile’ or ‘child’ as a person who has not completed the eighteenth year of age.

To curb this menace, various steps have been taken by the Government over the years. Imposing a ban on pan masala and gutka, enactment of the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act,2003, increasing the pictorial warnings on the tobacco products from 40% on one side to 85% on both sides w.e.f. April 1, 2016, imposition of heavy taxation on tobacco products etc. The most recent and drastic amendment is the insertion of Section 77 to the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015. The section reads “Whoever gives, or causes to be given, to any child any intoxicating liquor or any narcotic drug or tobacco products or psychotropic substance, except on the order of a duly qualified medical practitioner, shall be punishable with rigorous imprisonment for a term which may extend to seven years and shall also be liable to a fine which may extend up to one lakh rupees.”

Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act (COTPA),2013

The new Act has been in force from January 15, 2016, making the provision the most stringent till date. India is the only country to impose such a harsh penalty on tobacco sellers to minors. A punishment of Rs 1 lakh and a rigorous imprisonment of seven years shall be given to a person caught selling tobacco products to any minor. The previous punishment was merely Rs 200 as per the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act (COTPA),2013. The COTPA till now only included liquor and narcotics. Now, chewing tobacco has also been added. The rule also states that giving drugs or psychotropic substances to minors is an offence under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act.

Also, Section 6(a) & (b) of COTPA prohibits the sale of tobacco products to a person below the age of 18 years, and in places within 100 yards’ radius from the outer boundary of education Institutes. However, the punishments under COTPA are weak and this is overcome by the JJ Act where the offence may lead to imprisonment of 7 years and a fine of Rs 1 lakh. The amended law, under Section 107(1), also makes it mandatory for every police station to appoint a child welfare police officer to deal with children either victims or perpetrators under the Act.

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Many convicts have been convicted since the imposition of this Act. A drive was done by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) officials in Mumbai in January last year itself, convicting 1,257 people and collecting a fine of about Rs 1.85 lakh and Rs 55,750 from 316 offenders selling tobacco products within 100 meters of educational institutions.

The Harmful Effects

The reason behind targeting minors by the companies is that they are aware that the younger a person starts to smoke, it’s more likely that he will continue it as an adult. Many minors smoke due to peer pressure. Also, 24.0% think boys and 13.4% think girls who smoke have more friends, as per the GYTS 2009. Early use is also associated with more frequent use. Other enticing techniques used by companies to lure minors are offering of free cigarettes to 13 to 15-year-old children, tobacco advertisements on billboards, the strategic placement of tobacco products inside shops, etc. Since early users are less ignorant of the effects, hence making them easier prey for the companies. Another reason being the sale of cigarettes in a loose form which is against Section 7 and 8 of COTPA, making it easier and economical for the minors to buy cigarettes.

In 2011, the tobacco cessation Centre at the cancer institute, Adyar, received its youngest patient ever – a class II boy addicted to tobacco. Also, in a survey conducted by Adyar in Chennai among 15,186 students between the ages of 10 and 15 years in government and private schools, found 3.2% of students were tobacco users. Another 1.6% said they intended to use tobacco in the future. The study found 2.4% of students first used tobacco at 14 years of age, 2.9% at 10 years and 13 years, 3.6% at 15 years, 3.7% at 12 years and 5.8% at 11 years.

The amended Act has given a stringent provision regarding the sale of tobacco to minors, punishing the offender with rigorous imprisonment of 7 years and a fine of Rs 1 lakh. The punishment for sale of tobacco is so harsh because of the increase in the number of minors consuming tobacco and its products which is resulting in the death of people at an early age due to oral cancer and other diseases caused by tobacco. Hence, the Government and the Associations are of the view that this needs to be curbed immediately hence punishing the offenders.

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