On World No Smoking Day, call to amend COTPA to protect people from second-hand smoke

Doctors, cancer victims and restaurateurs in Assam seek removal of designated smoking rooms in hotels, restaurants and airports

Doctors, cancer victims and restaurateurs in Assam have asked the Centre to amend the COTPA 2003 for removing designated smoking rooms in hotels, restaurants and airports to protect people from second-hand smoke.

COTPA expands to Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce Production, Supply and Distribution) Act, 2003.

The doctors, cancer victims and restaurateurs made the appeal at a function in Guwahati to mark World No Smoking Day on Wednesday.

Appreciating the government for initiating the process to amend COTPA 2003, they sought immediate removal of a current provision that permits smoking areas to make India 100% smoking-free and check the spread of COVID-19 infection in the country.

“There is growing evidence that smoking is a risk for COVID-19 infection. Smoking worsens lung function and reduces immunity. Smokers who develop COVID-19 infection have more complications and greater risk of fatality,” Munindra Narayan Barua, managing director of North East Cancer Hospital and Research Institute, said.

“All designated smoking areas in hotels and restaurants and even airports should be abolished to ensure a 100% smoke-free environment. Most of these designated smoking areas rarely comply with COTPA requirements and are actually putting our public at great health risk from exposure to second-hand smoke,” he added.

Section 4 of the COTPA 2003 prohibits smoking in any place to which the public has access. But the Act allows smoking in designated smoking areas of certain public places such as restaurants, hotels and airports.

Anti-tobacco activists said exposure to passive smoking happens in hotels, restaurants, bars, pubs and clubs, risking the lives of thousands of non-smokers.

“As cigarette smoke seeps from smoking areas to common areas, COTPA needs to be amended to not permit smoking on any premises. Second-hand smoking is as harmful as smoking and designated smoking areas facilitate the spread of COVID-19 infection as smokers cannot socially distance or wear masks and are trapped in close proximity in a smoke-filled environment,” Guwahati-based anti-tobacco activist and lawyer Ajoy Hazarika said.

“The Central government’s decision to start the process of amending COTPA 2003 is a step towards improving public health. The amended Act needs to guarantee a 100% smoke-free environment to protect millions of Indians from tobacco-related diseases and deaths,” said Mr. Hazarika, also the secretary of Consumers’ Legal Protection Forum, Assam.

A recent survey conducted in India revealed 72% believe second-hand smoke is a serious health hazard and 88% of people strongly support the strengthening of the current tobacco control law to address this menace.

Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of disease and premature deaths globally and in India, more than 12 lakh people are losing lives every year due to tobacco-related diseases. India has more than 26 crore tobacco users, cutting across all demographics and genders.

The annual economic costs from all tobacco products were estimated at ₹177,341 crore in 2017-18 amounting to 1% of India’s GDP. According to the Ministry of Health and Indian Council of Medical Research, tobacco use in all forms — smoking or chewing — has been associated with COVID-19 casualties.

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