Smokers and sellers take surprisingly bold risks by trading illegal cigarettes in the city.
By Apoorva GS
You take a pack of cigarettes, you look at the pictorial health warning, you roll it over and you see the same warning again. With utter disgust, you pick one cigarette and you keep the pack away from your sight, don’t you? Well, not if you’re buying one of those brands that do not put textual or pictorial health warnings on their packets.
A few cigarette manufacturing companies choose not to display warning signs on thepacks. They are being sold at local shops and tea stalls.No legal actionhas been taken against these companies.
According to Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act (COTPA)2003 and guidelines issued by the World Health Organization in the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), a textual and pictorial components of the health warning together should cover 85 per cent of the front and back panels of the tobacco product package, with 25 per cent dedicated to text and 60 per cent dedicated to the picture. The resolution and intensity of color are also prescribed in the rules.According to data provided in ‘TheToll of Tobacco in India’, there are almost 276 million tobacco users in India, out of which 15.1per cent smoke cigarettes.
“Most of the time, these warning signs don’t matter for regular smokers,” said Richard M, a waiter at a resto-bar. “But it’s different for beginners. They tend to like these fancy packs which do not give any warning signs, hence encouraging them to smoke more.”
Cigarette packs which do not contain warning signs on them are mostly found in overcrowded paan stalls in the city.
Dr. M Selwarajan, Deputy Director, Department of Health and Family Welfare and Tobacco wing, said, “These are all imported cigarette packs which are sold illegally all over the country.
Our laws do not encourage selling the cigarette packs without warning signs on them.Penalty can be imposed on both buyer and seller because the prime motto of the pictorial representation of the effects of smoking is to make a smoker aware of the ill-effects of smoking”.
Dinesh, distributor of ITC cigarettes, said, “These cigarettes are smuggled goods, hence not available on a regular basis in the market. They’re i also sold at cheaper rates than other cigarette brands, because these brands do not pay taxes, as they are smuggled.”
However cigarette packs without warning signs are available online in India.
Venkatesh, a resident of Bengaluru, who is a regular smoker, said, “I like to buy fancy cigarettes that are thin and stylish, and come inclassy packaging, without any disturbing pictures on them.”
Kala, a retailer in Kumbalgodu, who sells these cigarettes, said, “I have no idea about these laws. I buy these cigarettes from a wholesaler at the Maximum Retail Price(MRP).I buy these fancy packs more often because of the high demand.”
These cigarettes are manufactured in countries like Korea where introducing pictorial warnings on cigarette packs is under discussion in parliament. Also, no MRP is mentioned on these packs, which also is againstthe law in India.
Dr. Vijayendra, Chief Health Officer, Bruhat Bengaluru MahanagaraPalike (BBMP), said, “There are at least 100 cigarette selling units in one region of Bangalore and the number of smokers is increasing day by day. It’s impossible to keep a check of small stalls all the time.
“These cigarette packs that come without pictorial representation are available at cheaper rates, as compared to other cigarette brands in the country. Whenever we come across these cases we take immediate action but it’s tough to reach the massive scale of smokers in the state. In order to achieve this, a huge enforcing mechanism is needed and we are working on it.”
According to a study conducted by the Department of Psychiatry, Institute of Human Behavior and Allied Sciences, “adolescents and children are the prime targets of the tobacco industry when recruiting new smokers.”
“Smoking cigarettes and other tobacco products has become a trend. The number of teens getting addicted to cigarette smoking is increasing, and no warning signs on the cigarette packs is an additional disadvantage, because most of them won’t be aware of the effects of tobacco on health like Asthma, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, etc.,” said Dr. Vinutha Patil, a medical practitioner from Bangalore.