Over 72 per cent of shops near educational institutes display cigarettes, tobacco products: Survey

A total of 1,011 educational institutions were investigated for this study using a mobile app in 25 cities across 10 states by two public health groups
Representative Image
Representative Image

Over 72 per cent points of sale around educational institutions in 25 cities of the country were found displaying cigarettes, bidis and smokeless tobacco products near candies and sweets at the eye level of children, according to a recent study. The study titled 'Big Tobacco Tiny Targets' was conducted in October and November 2019 to build more evidence on how key gaps in Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act (COTPA), 2003, allowing point of sale advertising and product display, are being exploited by tobacco companies to target youth and children.

A total of 1,011 educational institutions were investigated for this study using a mobile app in 25 cities across 10 states by two public health groups -- Voluntary Health Association of India and Consumer Voice. In total 885 points of sale were identified selling tobacco products within 100 yards of educational institutions, the survey report stated. This is in violation of section 6(b) of COTPA which states that no person shall sell, offer for sale or permit sale of cigarettes or any other tobacco product in an area within a radius of one hundred yards of any educational institution.

"Out of the 885 points of sale investigated, 640 (72.32 per cent) points of sale displayed cigarettes near candies and sweets to attract children, 669 (75.59 per cent) had displayed tobacco products at the eye level of the child," the report said. Further, 117 (13.2 per cent) points of sale had outdoor advertising, 369 (41.69 per cent ) had posters and 107 (12.09 per cent) had big banners. This advertising violates Section 5(2) of COTPA and Notification GSR 345(E) which established strict rules for any display boards used at entrances of shops where tobacco is sold, report said.

Out of 885 points of sale investigated, 111 (12.54 per cent) offered free distribution of tobacco products for their promotion, 106 (11.98 per cent) offered special or limited-edition packs and 105 (11.86 per cent) offered price discount on tobacco products, the survey report stated."Free distribution of tobacco products and promotion through discounts is prohibited under section 5(3) of COTPA," the report said. Out of the 885 points of sale, 771 (87.12 per cent) sold single stick cigarettes, 553 (62.49 per cent) displayed tobacco products hiding graphic health warnings on them and thereby neutralizing their effectiveness.

"The tobacco industry must be held accountable for their aggressive sale and advertising efforts around educational institutions," said Bhavna B Mukhopadhyay, the chief executive of Voluntary Health Association of India. "Our educational institutions are not safe so long as the tobacco industry continues to lure our children and youth into buying their deadly products." Ashim Sanyal the chief operating officer of Consumer Voice said Tobacco companies have been exploiting loopholes in the law by selling and advertising their products around educational institutions and endangering the lives of the young generation.

"We urge the government to strengthen COTPA 2003 to protect our children and youth from falling prey to the tactics of tobacco companies," he said. Advocate Ashok Agarwal, the national president of All India Parents Association said easy availability of tobacco products and their attractive advertisements trap children into lifelong addiction.

"We appeal to the government to improve the current laws and penalties to check tobacco companies from enticing our children to these harmful products," he said. The Global Youth Tobacco Survey, India, indicates that 14.6 per cent of students aged between 13 and 15 years use tobacco. As many as 11 per cent of all male students surveyed were found to be smoking or using smokeless tobacco, while six per cent of female students used smokeless tobacco and 3.7 per cent smoked tobacco. The annual economic costs from all tobacco products was estimated at Rs 1,77,341 crore in 2017-18 amounting to 1 per cent of India's gross domestic product.

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