Despite a ban that has existed for over a decade now, it is ironical that smokers are daily spotted buying tobacco near the Government Medical College from a shop that has been challaned in the past but continues to remain at the same spot. The sale of tobacco is prohibited within a 100-yard radius of any educational institution. It is a similar story near the nursing college and Mata Kaushalya Hospital.
It may be that these shopkeepers are habitual to paying fines and continue to run their shops on the same site.
What then, you might ask, is the role of the Punjab State Tobacco Control Cell?
Though the cell often conducts raids in tobacco shops or ‘khokhas’ and duly challans those selling tobacco products, it is merely a one-day exercise for the health department and sellers of the prohibited item.
The sale of tobacco near educational institutions goes unchecked. Even as the heath department claims to have challaned vendors, they still haven’t taken any strict action on ground.
This is due to a lack of coordination between the municipal corporation and the health department supposed to keep a check on the menace according to the Cigarette and Other Tobacco Products Act 2003.
“Haan vo health wale aate aai aur challan karke chale jate hain, bas aur kya (the health department comes and penalises us, and then leave)?” said a shookeeper, who runs his shop near Mata Kaushalya Nursing College.
According to the Cigarette and Other Tobacco Products Act 2003 and under the Prohibition on Sale to Minors – Section 6 (b), ‘In order to restrict access of youth for tobacco products, the sale of the tobacco products is prohibited within a radius of 100 yards of any educational institution and a display board has to be put up outside the educational institutions declaring the same.’
“I paid `400 as fine to the health department team on Tuesday. I was also told to shut shop but ‘chalta hai sab (everything works)’,” said another shopkeeper near Government Medical College in the same area. Health department officials claim that they challan violators and write to the MC for further action.
Dr Malkit Singh, nodal officer, district health department tobacco control cell, said, “We have issued challans and informed the MC on the violation of the Tobacco Control Act, 2003. Our responsibilities end here. The authorities of the concerned colleges should write for action against this practice.”
Medical college principal, Dr BL Bhardwaj, said, “It is a serious issue and we informed the MC about the shops around college but to no avail.” The MC land branch superintendent denied having received any such letters from the health department and medical college authorities. “It is a collective responsibility and requires joint action. If the health department calls us, we will go and remove these tobacco shops,” he said.