At a time when the world is marking No Tobacco Day today (May 31), the Himachal Pradesh government, which declared the state “smoke free” in 2013, needs to adopt a multipronged strategy to keep young people away from tobacco addiction. Though it has announced several programmes to tackle the menace, including a ban on sale of loose cigarettes, increased VAT and anti-tobacco campaigns, during the past two years so far most of them have still to take off the ground.
Last year the government announced a ban on sale of single cigarettes in the state but so far nothing concrete has been done. There was a proposal to add lessons about the ill effects of tobacco in the school curriculum but it was later turned down. Smoking in public places has already been prohibited in the state since October 2, 2008. However, the ban is largely ignored and the number of people fined for lighting up in public places is rising day by day.
Besides, the health department’s proposal to hike VAT on tobacco products from 36% to 50% could not go through.
Last year the Himachal Pradesh Voluntary Health Association (HPVHA) conducted a survey that found most schoolchildren have easy access to tobacco products, particularly in rural areas where several shops located within 100 meters of a school continued to sell cigarettes, ‘bidis’ and other tobacco items in violation of the laws. HPVHA state coordinator Ramesh Badrel said a strong will was required to tackle the increasing tobacco menace. The survey also found around 30% of schoolkids including girls were that around 30% of school children were tobacco users including girls using tobacco products. “The government has adopted certain measures but a multipronged strategy is the need of the hour,” he added.
Health activists in state have been demanding to increase pictorial warnings on cigarette packs and other tobacco products. Though sale of ‘gutka’ and ‘khaini’ has also been banned in the state they are readily available in the markets. “Sale of ‘gutka’ and ‘khaini’ is prohibited but they’re open sold even on Mall Road and other locations in Shimla,” a police official said.