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How, And Why, Should We Strengthen Anti-Tobacco Advertising And Promotions?

Tobacco use in one of the highest risk factors for many diseases and premature deaths. Tobacco kills more than 8 million people every year, of which 7 million are directly related to tobacco use and nearly 1.2 million consists of non-smokers exposed to tobacco use.

If current trends continue, it is estimated that around 500 million people will be killed by tobacco. In the twenty-first century, tobacco could kill up to one billion people. To check this menace, Indian Parliament has enacted The Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Act, 2003 also known as COTPA, 2003 to prohibit the advertisement of, and to provide for the regulation of trade and commerce in, and production, supply and distribution of cigarettes and other tobacco products in India.

Additionally, the World Health Organisation (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Article 13 recognizes that a comprehensive ban on Tobacco Advertisement Promotion and Sponsorship (TAPS) would reduce the consumption of tobacco products. Taking this into consideration, Section 5 of COTPA, 2003 was enacted which prohibits direct, indirect and surrogate tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship of all kinds of tobacco products.

According to the WHO, tobacco companies are using media and sponsoring influencers to promote tobacco products especially to youth. It reports that globally, the tobacco industry spent over $9 billion in marketing and advertising and the world lost 8 million lives due to tobacco use and exposure to second-hand smoke. It is estimated that more than 75% of net expenditure is spent by tobacco companies to market their products among consumers.

Representational image.

Although there are strict provisions for violations of TAPS ban in India, violations related to tobacco marketing are unable to get due importance despite the fact that tobacco use related diseases kill as many as 932,600 Indians every year.  Besides this, the implementation of Section 5 becomes an immense challenge because the retail sale of tobacco products is highly unregulated.

To counter this challenge, the practice of Legislative Courtesy Notices by NGOs and individual activists play a pivotal role in the effective eradication of tobacco advertisements at the Point of Sales (POS). A ‘Courtesy notice’, also known as Legislative Notice, is basically a sheet of paper mentioning the provisions of law, COTPA, in this case, is given to the tobacco vendor so that they can make necessary changes, in their vend and business as per tobacco control law. Although the Legislative/ Courtesy Notices have no punitive effect, they are in the nature of a warning, for the vendor/owner that enumerates that the omission of law will invite legal action.

The method devised by NGOs has been effectively tested and implemented in the states of Himachal and later replicated in the state of Punjab. The  Point of Sale kiosk violating any provision of Section 5 of COTPA is issued a “Legislative Courtesy Notice” and the retailer/vendor is sensitized about the provisions and is asked to remove any advertisement at their establishment present in form of boards, posters, frames, displays, etc, which is against the law.

A duplicate copy of the notice duly signed by the vendor acknowledging the violation is kept in the record by the NGO. This practice not only removes the violations of section 5 but also helps in maintaining the data of the shops selling tobacco products and checking any repetitive violations.

The impact of the notices has been verified through a compliance study conducted by PGIMER in all the districts of Punjab, of which 12 districts showed 100% compliance to all provisions of Section 5 of COTPA after rigorous Courtesy Notice drives were done in the districts.  These districts are Hoshiarpur, Fatehgarh Sahib, Mansa, Ludhiana, Mohali, Barnala, Taran Taran, Sri Muktsar Sahib, Ferozpur, Pathankot, Faridkot and Roopnagar.

Representational image.

The same practice and subsequent studies have also been done in 8 districts of Haryana and all have shown a high percentage of compliance for Section 5. Panipat having 100% compliance, Karnal 99.5%, Panchkula 99.1% and Ambala, Kurukshetra, Sirsa, Yamunanagar all above 90%.

It is an indisputable fact that ‘Legislative Courtesy Notice’ is an effective, cost-efficient, and a sustainable tool of implementation of Section 5. As all these advertisements at the point of sale are provided and maintained by the tobacco industries, in some cases they even pay rent to the retailers for putting up bigger boards, the monetary loss to the industry caused by this practise of courtesy notices, is also huge.

For widespread awareness and effective outreach to implementation of tobacco control law, all violations are also reported to TERM’s (Tobacco Enforcement and Reporting Mechanism) Facebook page that, besides exposing the tobacco industry’s marketing tactics, helps in reporting of a violation of the tobacco control laws.

About the author: Ms Opinder Preet K. Gill is part of the Generation Saviour Association, Punjab

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