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Assam bans Gutkha, Pan masala, sets sights on cigarettes next

After the passage of the anti-tobacco bill in the Assembly, the Assam government is now planning to bring in a new legislation to curb manufacturing and selling of all forms of smoking products in the state.

"Our first aim is to implement the anti-tobacco bill for all forms of smokeless products. After this, our next mission is to ban smoking tobacco... One day we will ban smoked tobacco also," Health and Family Welfare Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said.

He, however, did not give a timeframe on introduction of the bill to ban smoking tobacco saying the government at first wants to be successful in implementing the 'Assam Health (Prohibition of Manufacturing, Trade, Advertisement, Storage, Distribution, Sale and Consumption of Zarda, Gutkha, Panmasala etc. Containing Tobacco and/or Nicotin) Act, 2013'.

Representational image: Reuters

Representational image: Reuters

"I do not know when it will happen, but I want to begin the banning of smoking tobacco in the country from Assam," Sarma said.

Last week, the anti-tobacco bill was passed in the Assam Assembly unanimously with some amendments.

"The existing act in the country prohibiting smoking at public places leaves the onus on the consumer. However, in our bill, we have shifted the focus and now the onus is on the manufacturer," Sarma said.

He said when this bill comes into force, there will be pressure on all other states.

"The Assam government is very serious about this bill. That is why we have brought one amendment to include nicotine along with tobacco and have changed the name of the bill accordingly," Sarma said.

The bill provides for prevention of manufacturing and usage of tobacco products in non-smoking form.

The punishment for violators include an imprisonment of up to seven years and a fine to the tune of Rs 5 lakh.

The punishment will be given to those who will be found engaged in manufacturing, advertising, storing, and trading, distributing and selling of 'zarda, gutkha and pan masala containing tobacco or nicotine.

The bill also suggests slapping a fine of Rs 1,000 on the consumer for the first offence and Rs 2,000 for the second and any subsequent offences.

"If any person after having been previously convicted of an offence under this Act, subsequently commits and is convicted for the same offence, he shall be liable to twice the punishment, which might have been imposed on a first conviction, subject to punishment being maximum provided for the same offence," the bill said.

The bill, however, clarified that "tobacco" will include all the products, which are smokeless and chewing, and includes leaves and other vegetative parts of Nicotiana-Tabacum.

PTI