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World

India's proposed changes to anti-smoking law face objections from tobacco industry

  • India has over the years introduced tobacco controls and launched campaigns to deter its use, but enforcement of the law has been a challenge.
  • India released draft changes to its tobacco-control law over the weekend to ban smoking zones in hotels, restaurants and airports.
Published January 6, 2021
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NEW DELHI: India's tobacco industry will object to a proposal to ban smoking zones in hotels and prohibit advertising at cigarette kiosks as the government steps up anti-smoking efforts, two executives said on Wednesday.

India has over the years introduced tobacco controls and launched campaigns to deter its use, but enforcement of the law has been a challenge. The World Health Organization says nearly 1.35 million people die each year in India due to tobacco use.

India released draft changes to its tobacco-control law over the weekend to ban smoking zones in hotels, restaurants and airports. The proposal also calls for increasing the minimum legal smoking age from 18 to 21.

If implemented, the plan is seen hitting sales of companies such as ITC, Godfrey Phillips India and a unit of Philip Morris International which operate in the country's $12 billion cigarette market, executives said.

ITC shares fell 3% while Godfrey dropped 1.5% on Wednesday.

"Some of the measures are very extreme and problematic," said one tobacco industry executive, who added companies will raise concerns before the public consultation period of the proposal ends on Jan. 31.

The second executive said concerns around the impact on employment and how farmers could be affected will also be shared with the government.

The draft changes have also tightened existing provisions to ban advertising at kiosks and prohibit sale of loose cigarette sticks, which form the bulk of the sales, health activists said.

"It is a much needed proposal as there were some gaps previously. The key is going to be enforcement of the law once passed," said Sanjay Seth, head of tobacco control at non-profit Sambandh Health Foundation.

India had proposed sweeping changes to its tobacco-control law in 2015 as well but the proposal was dropped following protests from the tobacco industry.

A Reuters investigation in 2017 found Philip Morris was deploying marketing tactics in India, including certain advertising at kiosks, in alleged violation of existing laws. India later threatened the company with "punitive action" and the company removed its ads from several tobacco shops.

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