The Jammu and Kashmir High Court on Tuesday issued notice to the government on a Public Interest Litigation seeking ban on sale of loose cigarettes and tobacco products.
A division bench comprising Justice Muzaffar Hussain Attar and Justice Janak Raj Kotwal asked the government through its Chief Secretary, Principal Secretary Home, DGP, Commissioner Secretary Health and Medical Education and Divisional Commissioners of Kashmir and Jammu to file objections to the petition within two weeks.
Senior Additional Advocate General N A Beigh accepted notice in the open court.
The petitioner Muhammad Ramzan Dar through his counsel Firdous Paray has approached the court seeking ban on sale of loose cigarettes and tobacco in keeping with section 7 of the Cigarettes and other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Act (COTPA) 2003.
Working as program officer with voluntary health association of India in tobacco control activities since 2011, the petitioner pleads, "Jammu and Kashmir is emerging as smoking capital of Northern India and smoking is almost double the nationwide prevalence as the state has 12% of cigarette smokers as compared to the nationwide prevalence of 5.7%, it has also come to light that highest proportion of Adults 67.9% are exposed to tobacco smoking in offices."
"Seeking implementation of COTPA, the petitioner submits that the "Act was passed in view of obligation enjoined by Article 47 of the Constitution of India which casts obligation on the state to achieve improvement of public health."
Referring to relevant sections of the Act, the petitioner pleads, "No person shall, directly or indirectly produce, supply or distribute cigarette or any other tobacco products unless every package of cigarette or any other tobacco products produced supplied or distributed by him bears thereon, or on its label, the specified warning including a pictoral depiction of skull and cross bones and such other warning as may be prescribed."
"The purpose behind the section 7 of the Act is to give warning to those persons who directly or indirectly are involved in selling, supplying or distribution of cigarettes by selling cigarettes and loose tobacco. But the warning is missing when a shopkeeper sells loose cigarettes and other tobacco products."
Pointing out that cigarette is mostly sold to younger generations who cannot afford a full package of cigarette or tobacco, the petitioner states, "On one side it violates the section 7 of the Act as without warning and on other side it plays havoc with the health of the young people including school going children."
Different states of India, the petition states, have already issued notifications to ban sale of loose cigarettes and tobacco in order to plug the loop holes in the Act.
"In J&K loose cigarettes are easily available at every nook and corner of our state by virtue of which the health of the young souls get badly effected as they become its victims very easily, it was the duty of state in view of Article 47 of Constitution of India read with section 24 of J&K Constitution to issue similar type of notification as has been issued by state of Maharashtra and Punjab," the petitioner pleads.
"It has been found in a research that most of smokers buy loose cigarettes especially youngsters and among those patients who develop cancer because of smoking 95% said that they developed the habits during their teens and always purchase lose cigarettes."
"While obeying the duty cast upon the states under Article 47 of constitution of India various states including state of Maharashtra and Punjab have passed necessary laws for banning the sale of loose and single cigarettes, state of Jammu and Kashmir has failed to take the necessary steps which constrained the petitioner to invoke the jurisdiction of this court for redressal of the same," the petitioner pleads.