On 12th January, on the occasion of Swami Vivekanada’s birth anniversary, which is also celebrated as National Youth Day, the report of Big Tobacco, Tiny Targets Study 2020 was released online. The study was conducted across 1011 educational institutions and 885 points of sale were investigated. A mobile app in 25 cities across 10 states of India was used by Consumer Voice and Voluntary Health Association of India (VHAI) for the study. The report was inaugurated amidst the august presence of Shri KTS Tulsi, Hon’ble Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha, Dr. Kirit Premjibhai Solanki, Member of Parliament, Bhavna B Mukhopadhyay, Chief Executive, Voluntary Health Association of India and Ashim Sanyal, Chief Operating Officer, CONSUMER VOICE. The event also witnessed the participation of civil society members from Consumer VOICE, Voluntary Health Association of India (VHAI), and other civil society organisations, public health experts, parents, school children ,educationists, and media
The report is an eye opener of sorts. It reveals that tobacco companies are systematically targeting youth as young as eight years old in India, by selling and advertising tobacco products near educational institutions. Over 72% point of sale around educational institutions in 25 cities were found to be displaying cigarettes, bidis and smokeless tobacco products near candies and sweets at the eye level of children. These were selling single stick cigarettes and offering free/ discounted tobacco products to school children.
Key findings of the study:
- Selling of tobacco around Educational Institutions- A total of 885 point of sale were identified to be selling tobacco products within 100 yards of educational institutions. This is a violation of section 6(b) of COTPA
- Display of tobacco products to attract children and youth- Out of the 885 points of sale investigated, 640 (72.32%) points of sale displayed cigarettes near candies and sweets to attract children, 669 (75.59%) points of sale had displayed tobacco products at the eye level of the child
- Advertisement of tobacco products- 117(13.2%) points of sale had outdoor advertising, 369 (41.69%) points of sale had posters and 107 (12.09%) had big banners. This advertising violates Section 5(2) of COTPA and Notification G.S.R. 345(E) which established strict rules for any display boards used at the entrances of shops where tobacco is sold.
- Price Discounts/ free product distribution of tobacco products- Out of 885 points of sale investigated, 111 (12.54%) offered free distribution of tobacco products for their promotion; 106 (11.98%) points of sale offered special or limited-edition pack and 105 (11.86%) offered price discount on tobacco products.
- Cigarettes most commonly available-Out of 885 point of sale investigated, 840 (94.92%) sold cigarettes; 598 (67.57%) sold bidis; smokeless tobacco products were available at 520 (58.76%); 201 (22.71%) sold flavored tobacco products; Out of the 885 point of sale 678 (76.61%) points of sale had ITC brands like Classic, Gold Flake, Wills Navy Cut, Flake, and Bristol.
- Selling of single stick cigarettes- Out of the 885 points of sale, 771 (87.12%) points of sale, sold single stick cigarettes.
- Graphic health warnings hidden- Out of the 885 point of sale investigated, 553 (62.49%) displayed tobacco products, hiding the graphic health warnings on them, and thereby neutralizing their effectiveness.
The result of this study only strengthens our resolve to implement COTPA more stringently. As Ashim Sanyal points out“Tobacco companies have been exploiting loopholes in the law by selling and advertising their products around educational institutions and endangering the lives of our young generation, we therefore urge the Government to strengthen COTPA 2003 to protect our children & youth from falling prey to the tactics of tobacco companies.” This will help in ending tobacco marketing to children and youth who are the future of any nation. This was also asserted by Dr. Kirit Premjibhai Solanki, Member of Parliament that “5500 children begin tobacco use daily in India and consequently may become addicted. It’s critical to make sure we strengthen our laws and penalty provisions to deter tobacco companies from selling and advertising of their addictive products to our children and youth”
Dismay at the fact the children as young as 10 and 12 years are being targeted by tobacco companies, Shri KTS Tulsi, Hon’ble Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha said that,
“It’s critical to improve our existing laws and have stronger penalty provisions to protect our children and youth from menace of tobacco for healthy India”.
Dr. Pulkesh Kumar, Deputy Secretary, Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Govt. of India who also graced the occasion emphasized the need to protect our children from the harmful effects of tobacco and implementation of COTPA in a more stringent manner.
"Our educational institutions are not safe so long as the tobacco industry continues to lure our children and youth into buying their deadly products” as rightly pointed out by Bhavna B Mukhopadhyay, Chief Executive, Voluntary Health Association of India.
It’s time that we wake up to this serious threat and save our children from the harmful effects of tobacco consumption.
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