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Bring strong anti-tobacco law to save youth, ban designated smoking areas: Experts

While appreciating the steps taken by the government under tobacco control legislation, top health experts and an activist on Friday said it is time the law is strengthened by completely banning designated smoking areas and advertisements of tobacco products at points of sale. Over 13 lakh people die due to tobacco consumption in India every year, experts said, adding the stringent COTPA (Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act) Amendment Bill will not only help save lives but also reduce burden on the healthcare system.

At a webinar held by Tobacco-Free India, a citizens group, they said gaps in the COTPA Act serve as a tacit approval from the authorities to allow tobacco consumption as, according to them, it sends a wrong message.

Dr Shalini Singh, a cancer specialist and director, ICMR-National Institute of Cancer Prevention and Research, stressed on the need to spread awareness about tobacco-related cancers and a plethora of other diseases.

Drawing attention towards second-hand smoking, which is equally harmful, Dr Singh said, “Many countries are now moving towards the tobacco endgame strategy. They have also started banning tobacco on streets, beaches and outdoor parks. Smoking zones allowed in our country in indoor spaces like hotels and restaurants pose huge health hazards for non-smokers and we have to ban them immediately.”

Shweta Shalini, a BJP leader from Maharashtra, elaborated on the urgency and the immediate need for action to fight against the tobacco menace.

“If we want to make India a world leader, we must have healthy youth. But I feel that there’s a strong lobby working against the government’s dream. If our youth and kids have ill-health, India can never become the ‘Vishwa Guru’,” she said.

Indian National Health Policy-2017 comprehensively includes the aspect of tobacco control and sets out the target for achieving 30 per cent relative reduction of tobacco use by 2025 from the levels in 2009-10.

“It’s good that smoking is completely banned in many public places and workplaces. The law, however, permits the establishment of smoking areas or spaces in airports, hotels having 30 or more rooms, and restaurants having seating capacity for 30 or more. This gap needs to be plugged,” Shalini asserted.

Dr Archana Dhawan Bajaj, a fertility expert, cautioned that tobacco use can have a serious impact on the fertility of both men and women, and consequently, lead to a poor quality of life in pregnancy as well as negative health on the unborn child, besides miscarriage and death.

Dr Bajaj explained that regular smoking has a double whammy on a woman’s fertility. Smoking can harm both the eggs and the uterus. It not only affects her egg quality, but can also have an endometrial effect, he said.

From a man’s perspective, the carcinogen quality of cigarettes in general affects the motility of the sperm and excessive smoking can lead to poor sperm count and other fertility problems, she added.

“A total ban on smoking in indoor public places will protect men and women from the harms of second-hand smoke, help smokers quit and reduce smoking among youth,” the gynaecologist said.

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