A recent survey conducted by Consumer Voice, New Delhi in association with Consumers Association of India (CAI) has found street vendors selling tobacco products to kids outside many schools in Tamil Nadu. Vendors also seemed to be actively luring minors by selling tobacco products alongside other items such as candies, toys and other non-tobacco products.
The study, ‘Big Tobacco: Tiny Targets’, was conducted across 487 points of sale around 243 schools in 20 cities across six states - Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Assam, Tamil Nadu, Telangana and Delhi – in November-December 2017. Published on Tuesday, it observed that out of the 487 points of sale, 46% (225) were found to be selling tobacco products to kids.
When it comes to Tamil Nadu, the study surveyed 34 schools - 10 each in Pudukottai and Coimbatore and 14 schools in Chennai. Out of the 68 points of sale found in the state, 34 were selling tobacco products to kids. In Chennai, of the 14 schools surveyed, investigators say 10 were open about tobacco sales, while others sold it surreptitiously.
Of the 34 violative points of sale observed in Tamil Nadu, only four had warning display boards. Further, with loose cigarettes being sold at 88% of the 34 points of sale, the purpose of pictorial warnings on packets of tobacco products was significantly diluted. Even on the national level, 90.9% of the 225 points of sale were found to be selling beedis as single sticks, making it cheap and accessible for children and the youth.
Unlike the other states where mobile vendors were largely responsible for sale of tobacco products to minors, in Tamil Nadu, street vendors were largely the culprits.
Incidentally, Tamil Nadu is the only south Indian state to report increase in tobacco consumption between Global Adult Tobacco Surveys. According to the Global Adult Tobacco Survey 2 (GATS2), overall use of tobacco went up to 20% in 2016-2017 from 16.2% in 2009-10.
Under Section 6(b) of the Cigarette and Other Tobacco Products Act (COTPA), the sale of tobacco products is prohibited in an area within a radius of 100 yards of any educational institutions. The Act also bans the sale of tobacco to and by minors. Section 77 of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 also criminalises distribution of tobacco products to children. Despite the same, it was found that vendors continued to advertise tobacco products around schools – tobacco was advertised at 34% of the 225 violative points of sale across India.
Advertising was found to be targeted towards minors too. At the 225 tobacco points of sale observed in India, 91% of displays were at one meter - a child's eye level; 90% of displays were beside candy, sweets and other items for children; and 54% of the points of sale had no visible health warning. Street vendors were the most common form of seller with them dominating 56.6% of the 225 points of sale.
The survey recommends urgent action from the government agencies to stop tobacco companies from targeting children, stricter enforcement of COTPA rules and vendor licenses to confirm COTPA compliances.
Incidentally, India was among the first countries in the world to ratify the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in 2004.