The Union Health Ministry is mulling to increase the legal age for tobacco consumption from 18 to 21 years as part of its efforts to strengthen the provisions of the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act (COTPA).
A legal sub-group constituted by the ministry for suggesting legal reforms for tobacco control held its meeting recently and has submitted its recommendations to the ministry.
The committee, besides increasing the legal age of tobacco consumption, has also recommended increasing the fine amount for violation of rules and introducing a provision of tracking and tracking mechanism to check illicit trade of cigarette and tobacco products, an official said.
According to The Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS2), the mean age at initiation of tobacco use has increased from 17.9 years in GATS1 to 18.9 years, the official said.
"Mostly, people take up smoking as young adults especially late in schools or colleges. Youths in the age group of 18 to 21 are susceptible to start smoking mostly due to peer pressure or fashion statement and are heavily targeted by the tobacco industry.
"Increasing the legal age to 21 would bring down the number of youngsters taking to tobacco every year drastically. Even parents will not be able to send their children aged below 21 to shops for buying these products, the official said.
The sub-group has also recommended introducing provisions of tracking and tracking mechanism to check illicit trade of cigarette and tobacco products.
"Under this system, at the manufacturing point, a bar code would be put on tobacco products to help enforcement agencies determine whether it is legal for which proper taxes have been paid," the official said.
The ministry is also contemplating increasing the penalty for smoking in restricted areas which currently is up to Rs 200.
COTPA prohibits smoking in public places, sale of cigarettes or other tobacco products within a hundred yards of educational institutions and sale of any tobacco product to those below 18.
"The aim is to make COTPA more effective and more inclined to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) guidelines," the official said.
The Health Ministry had proposed a number of amendments to the 2003 legislation and put the draft Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Amendment Bill in the public domain in 2015.
However, it was withdrawn in 2017 to have a relook at the draft provisions and come up with a better version. The ministry has now re-initiated the process of amending the legislation.
The earlier draft proposed increasing the fine amount to Rs 1,000, doing away with on-site advertising of tobacco products and removing designated smoking areas from hotels, restaurants and airports.
According to GATS-2, 19% of men, 2% of women and 10.7% of all adults currently smoke tobacco, while 29.6% of men, 12.8% of women and 21.4% of all adults use smokeless tobacco.
It also mentioned that 28.6% of all adults (26.7 crore) use tobacco in some form or the other.