Dipanjali Deka, 13 : February:
Vendor licensing can be defined as “a license required by shopkeepers or vendors for selling products in their retail shops or point of sale. Without the license they are not authorized to sell the products.” In this article, we are going to talk about Vendor licensing which is an efficient method to reduce tobacco consumption. Tobacco is one of the leading causes of preventable deaths in India. The tobacco consumption results in about 10 lakhs death in India every year. According to Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS 2) report of 2016-17, there are 199 million smokeless tobacco users, 72 million bidi smokers and 32 million dual users in India. 48.2% adults in Assam consume tobacco products as per GATS 2 report, compared to 39.3% in GATS report of Assam 2009-10.
In the state of Assam, young children are getting exposed to tobacco at an age as early as 13-16. It is becoming rapidly the cancer state of India. A recent survey study by Consumers’ Legal Protection Forum reveal the following facts about tobacco vendors in the state of Assam:
• The density of tobacco vendors is too high in both commercial and residential areas and there is no record available of tobacco vendors. We found 324 tobacco vendors in 6 wards / areas of 3 cities of Assam (Guwahati, Dibrugarh & Jorhat).
• Tobacco vendors are violating COTPA
• Mandatory warning display was not found at 67 % point of sale.
• Tobacco products are displayed openly, amounting to advertisements in 100% cases.
• 87 % Tobacco vendors were found selling candy, chips etc. the products meant for and to attract children/youth to tobacco shops.
Tobacco consumption is a huge public health issue in India and its impact is especially among the poor. Effective tobacco control polices can achieve twin goal to address a critical health issue and a tool to reduce poverty. Being a signatory to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), India has been in the forefront pursuing a proactive and bold strategy for tobacco control.
The damaging effects of the use of tobacco are well established and improvements in the public health is the duty of the State, as per Article 39 and 47 of the Constitution of India.
Article 47 of the Constitution of India imposes a duty of the state to raise the level of nutrition and the standard of living and to improve public health- “The State shall regard the raising of the level of nutrition and the standard of living of its people and the improvement of public health among its primary duties and, in particular, the State shall endeavour to bring about prohibition of the consumption except for medicinal purposes of intoxicating drinks and of drugs which are injurious to health.”
As per the Constitution of India, health is a state subject and based on its own social, economic, political and cultural situations, different states have developed their own standard operating procedures to address the public health issues. Despite all these measures and laws, tobacco industry is finding novel ways to circumvent the legal provisions and introducing new products such as E- cigarettes, Hookah bars etc. to replace the 10 lakhs of its consumers, which it succeeded in killing with new and young consumers, who may be long-term potential consumers of its tobacco products.
Taking into account the new challenges in tobacco control, the Ministry of Health & Family welfare, Government of India, vide advisory letter (D.O. No. P- 16012l14/2017- ‘TC) dated 21st September 2017, requested State Governments to develop a mechanism to provide permission/ authorization through Municipal/Local Authority to the retail shops who are selling tobacco products.
The Municipal authorities of the states of Himachal Pradesh, Bihar, Kerala, West Bengal, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Goa, and Jharkhand have issued Vendor Licensing orders respectively for mandatory licensing of tobacco vendors.
Vendor licensing if implemented will play an effective tool to reduce tobacco consumption in the following ways:
1. Reduce availability of tobacco products:
The regulation by municipal bodies will help curb the mushrooming of these shops. Limiting the sale of tobacco to certain shops will restrict access, especially for the children. It will help by reducing number of vendors & retail density (by population or geographic area); banning sales in specific types of venues (such as general stores, hotels); limiting sales in specific locations (such as near schools).
2. Help comply with all applicable Tobacco Control laws at the retail level:
Ban sale to and by minors; ban sale of single sticks; ban POS advertising (including tobacco product display) and promotion; Ban on flavour tobacco products; ban on Gutka and E- cigarettes etc. By registering shops selling tobacco, local government bodies will know their locations and can ensure none of the shops are located within close proximity of educational institutes.
3. Generate revenue for Municipal bodies to cover enforcement of licensing and/ for public health.
Tobacco companies are targeting children and youths with different tactics and the enforcement of present Tobacco control laws in India need to be improved to achieve our national mission of public health for all, especially children.
Municipalities can use tobacco vendor licensing to implement and enforce a variety of policies aimed at reducing access and exposure to tobacco products in the retail environment, making it a great foundational regulatory for local governments.
Also, by implementing the advisories, related to Tobacco Vendor Licensing we can restrict the access and availability of tobacco products, especially by the children; it will help in ensuring compliance with all applicable tobacco control laws at the retail level and help to improve the public health.
Lastly, taking into account all the facts related to tobacco challenges in the State of Assam, the government should pass appropriate orders to make mandatory licensing of tobacco trade with a condition not to sell other non-tobacco products such as toffee, candy, chips, biscuits soft drinks etc.