A new report released today reveals that tobacco companies are systematically targeting youth as young as eight years old in India, by selling and advertising tobacco products near educational institutions. Over 72% point of sale around educational institutions in 25 cities were found to be displaying cigarettes, bidis and smokeless tobacco products near candies and sweets at the eye level of children. These were selling single stick cigarettes and offering free/ discounted tobacco products to school children.
These and other egregious tactics being used by companies like ITC, British American Tobacco, Philip Morris (Godfrey Philips) across the country, were revealed by the study titled – Big Tobacco Tiny Targets. This study was conducted to build more evidence on how key gaps in Cigarettes & Other Tobacco Products Act of Government of India (COTPA 2003) that allow Point of Sale advertising and product display are being exploited by tobacco companies to target youth and children.
Dr. Kirit Premjibhai Solanki, Member of Parliament – “5500 children begin tobacco use daily in India and consequently may become addicted. It’s critical to make sure we strengthen our laws and penalty provisions to deter tobacco companies from selling and advertising of their addictive products to our children and youth”
A total of 1011 educational institutions and 885 points of sale were investigated for this study using a mobile app in 25 cities across 10 states of India by Consumer Voice and Voluntary Health Association of India. Key findings of the study:
· Selling of tobacco around Educational Institutions- A total of 885 point of sale were identified to be selling tobacco products within 100 yards of educational institutions. This is a violation of section 6(b) of COTPA
· Display of tobacco products to attract children and youth- Out of the 885 points of sale investigated, 640 (72.32%) points of sale displayed cigarettes near candies and sweets to attract children, 669 (75.59%) points of sale had displayed tobacco products at the eye level of the child
· Advertisement of tobacco products- 117(13.2%) points of sale had outdoor advertising, 369 (41.69%) points of sale had posters and 107 (12.09%) had big banners. This advertising violates Section 5(2) of COTPA and Notification G.S.R. 345(E) which established strict rules for any display boards used at the entrances of shops where tobacco is sold.
· Price Discounts/ free product distribution of tobacco products- Out of 885 points of sale investigated, 111 (12.54%) offered free distribution of tobacco products for their promotion; 106 (11.98%) points of sale offered special or limited-edition pack and 105 (11.86%) offered price discount on tobacco products.
· Cigarettes most commonly available-Out of 885 point of sale investigated, 840 (94.92%) sold cigarettes; 598 (67.57%) sold bidis; smokeless tobacco products were available at 520 (58.76%); 201 (22.71%) sold flavored tobacco products; Out of the 885 point of sale 678 (76.61%) points of sale had ITC brands like Classic, Gold Flake, Wills Navy Cut, Flake, and Bristol.
· Selling of single stick cigarettes- Out of the 885 points of sale, 771 (87.12%) points of sale, sold single stick cigarettes.
· Graphic health warnings hidden- Out of the 885 point of sale investigated, 553 (62.49%) displayed tobacco products, hiding the graphic health warnings on them, and thereby neutralizing their effectiveness.
“It’s shocking to see that children are being target by tobacco companies. It’s critical to improve our existing laws and have stronger penalty provisions to protect our children and youth from menace of tobacco for healthy India” – Shri KTS Tulsi, Hon’ble Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha
“Tobacco companies have been exploiting loopholes in the law by selling and advertising their products around educational institutions and endangering the lives of our young generation,’’ .”We urge the Government to strengthen COTPA 2003 to protect our children & youth from falling prey to the tactics of tobacco companies said dr shekhar salkar secretary National organisation for tobacco eradication ( india).
“The tobacco industry must be held accountable for their aggressive sale and advertising efforts around our educational institutions,” said Bhavna B Mukhopadhyay, Chief Executive, Voluntary Health Association of India. “Our educational institutions are not safe so long as the tobacco industry continues to lure our children and youth into buying their deadly products”.
The Global Youth Tobacco Survey, India indicates that 14.6% of 13 –15-year-old students in India use tobacco. As many as 11% of all male students surveyed were found to be users of smoking or smokeless tobacco, while 6% of female students used smokeless tobacco and 3.7% smoked tobacco. The annual economic costs from all tobacco products was estimated at Rs.177,341 crores in 2017-18 amounting to 1% of India’s GDP.
Dr shekhar salkar