SRINAGAR: The anti-tobacco campaigners in Kashmir have sought large scale public involvement in minimizing the consumption of tobacco products in the strife-ridden region where higher stress level among the residents could be one of the reasons for rise in cigarette smokers. The campaigners sought sustained efforts from the government, law enforcing agencies and general public to effectively implement Cigarettes and other Tobacco Products Act (CoPTA), 2003.
Speaking at a media seminar organized by Voluntary Health Association of India (VHAI), former bureaucrat and leading anti-tobacco campaigner Ali Mohammad Mir said that Jammu and Kashmir has emerged as one of the leading tobacco consumer states in India. He said the state machinery has long been lackadaisical in implementing the relevant laws banning the consumption of tobacco and its products. However, a continuous effort and sensitization of the officers is showing results on the ground.
“All the gazetted officers have been empowered to challan anyone smoking at designated public places. However, despite the government orders, the officers are not willing to use their powers,” he said.
He said that youngsters must be sensitized on the ill-effects of cigarette smoking. “Smoking is the first step towards falling into drug-addiction trap. It is better to catch young people and educate them,” Mir said.
He said it was horrifying that cigarette consumption is the highest in Jammu and Kashmir despite the fact that tobacco cultivation has long been abandoned in Kashmir.
Media coordinator VHAI, Shafat Kira said that the continued efforts of their organization are showing tangible results on the ground but there is a lot of ground to be covered. “We are satisfied that smoking is totally out of public conveyances, hospitals and educational institutions,” he said.
Binoy Mathew, media educator of the group in his presentation said that the enhancement in tax levy on tobacco and its products is proving to be a deterrent. He said police have challaned as many as 54,455 people in Jammu and Kashmir last year for smoking at public places and realized an amount of Rs 52.5 lacs as fine from them. He regretted that the Jammu and Kashmir state has not created a separate head for collecting fines from violators so that the amount could have been used for health programmes like treatment of cancer patients.
Mathew said the ban on advertisements and pictorial representation of cancer ailments affecting due to excessive smoking are not implemented according to the prescribed formats. He said since April 2016, 85 percent space on both sides of the cigarette pack must be covered by pictorial representations.
VHAI’s state programme manager Mohammad Altaf Dar said that Kashmir’s smoker population is more than the population of Namibia and Qatar. “We have a total of 23 lac tobacco consumers. This figure can constitute population of a country,” he said.
He said that 10.3 percent women are smokers in Jammu and Kashmir, mostly residing in remote areas.
Asked whether a cop-relation exists between the higher stress levels among the local population due to turmoil and heavy militarization, he said that his group is planning to conduct a study on the causes of increasing population of smokers. “It seems the higher stress level among the population is one of the causes. We have to find out the exact causes,” he said.
He said the social acceptability to smokers needs to be reversed. “We cannot completely eradicate the menace of cigarette smoking but we can at least try to minimize its use,” he said.
Meanwhile, the workshop was informed that DGP K Rajindra has issued a circular to all district police heads to remove hoardings and advertisements on cigarette smoking from public places and commercial outlets.