New Delhi: Tobacco companies are facing the ire of the health ministry for allegedly distributing free cigarettes and displaying promotional advertisements on screens in pubs and bars, violating anti-smoking laws.

Calling it a violation of the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) (COTPA) Act 2003 and COTPA Rules 2004, the union health ministry has written to all state and union territories to rigorously implement the anti-smoking laws and take appropriate action against erring companies.

COTPA was enacted in May 2003 to discourage the consumption of cigarettes and other tobacco products and to protect the youth and the general population from their usage. Section 5 of the COTPA prohibits all direct and indirect advertisement of tobacco products and activity that may promote the use of tobacco products or any trademark or brand name of tobacco products.

Rule 4 of the COTPA Rules 2004 specifies the manner in which advertisements can be displayed at the entrance or inside a shop or warehouse, where tobacco products are offered for distribution or sale.

“It has been observed that section 5 of COTPA, 2003 and the 2004 Rules are being violated by display of advertisements boards and posters etc with brand packs shot or brand name of the tobacco products or other promotional messages and pictures, both inside and outside the point of sale of tobacco products," stated Arun Kumar Jha, economic advisor, ministry of health and family welfare, in his letter.

“Further, it has come to our notice that as a part of their promotional activities, the tobacco companies are also distributing free cigarettes of their popular brand and displaying promotional messages and advertisements on television screens at pubs and bars, in violation of section 5 or COTPA and its Rules," he added.

The Supreme Court on 22 July 2013 issued an order stating that “the central government and the government of all the states shall be bound to rigorously implement the provisions of the 2003 Act and the 2004 Rules as amended from time to time".

The health ministry has also asked states and union territories to issue special instructions to their relevant officers to take action and report the status of action taken.

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