The revised Rules on the Prohibition of Smoking in Public Places will come into effect from 2 October, banning smoking in most places in India, except on roads and inside homes.
Health minister Anbumani Ramadoss is crusading against smoking, even locking horns with Bollywood on the depiction of smoking in cinema. While his outbursts and methods are controversial, his concern is reasonable: one million Indians will die each year from smoking-related afflictions, from 2010.
The health ministry should take guidance from the US Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, which is being consulted by the government on other fronts—to streamline regulations, train staff, build capacity and also to set up a local version of FDA.
After decades of debate, it is likely that tobacco products in the US will come under the regulatory ambit of FDA this year. In passing the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act by a majority vote recently, the US Congress hopes to bring in legislation to get cigarettes under stringent surveillance.
The new Bill is meant to toughen prohibitions on marketing tobacco to youth, to seek more specific and prominent warning labels on packs, and to mandate companies to disclose all ingredients in their products. This would include the harmful additives, the composition of which in cigarettes is currently not known. The Bill also bans alluring flavours of fruit and candy used to attract young smokers.
A new study by Harvard researchers earlier this month shows that tobacco companies manipulate the amount of menthol in cigarettes to lure new smokers. Even though menthol is not addictive, it makes smoking easier.
More disclosures on labels would also allow better monitoring or control of the carcinogenic “tars” in cigarettes. So far, companies have gotten away by labelling their products as low tar, light or ultra light, which obviously says less and conceals more. As expected, most public health and medical specialty groups in the US back the new Bill.
India should push for similar legislation, even though it has a poor record of translating draft guidelines into legislation, particularly when it comes to health.
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