Bengaluru, May 12 (IANS): Hundreds of citizens, civil society organisations and NSS volunteers have started the exercise of collecting cigarette and bidi butts in Bengaluru to expose rampant smoking in public places and to urge the Central government to amend the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act (COTPA) in the run-up to the World No Tobacco Day which is observed on May 31.
The three-week long campaign is led by Consortium for Tobacco Free Karnataka in association with 32 coalition members. The campaign was flagged off on Thursday by former MP and retired IPS officer H.T. Sangliana, ex-BBMP Mayor Gangambike Mallikarjun and K. Ravi, Dean and Director of Bangalore Medical College and Research Institute (BMCRI).
The campaign across Bengaluru will conclude on World No Tobacco Day on May 31 at the Rajiv Gandhi University of Health Sciences (RGUHS), where all the collected cigarette and bidi butts will be displayed.
At the culmination of the event, Members of Parliament will be invited and a memorandum will be submitted requesting them to raise the issue of rampant smoking in public places in the Parliament and get the COTPA amendment bill passed.
COTPA came into effect in 2003 and prohibits smoking in public places. However, this provision is being violated blatantly, forcing non-smokers into passive smoking. The fines prescribed for violations as per the existing COTPA are minuscule. A fine of Rs 200 is not deterrent enough against smoking in public, stated the official release.
A study recently published in the Journal of Nicotine and Tobacco Research has estimated that the annual direct economic costs attributed to second-hand smoking in India amounted to INR 567 billion.
According to the Cigarette Butt Pollution Project, 5.5 trillion cigarettes are consumed every year globally, with 90 per cent of them containing a plastic-based filter. Cigarette filters are made from cellulose acetate, an artificial fiber that takes decades to break down.
To gather evidence and to expose rampant smoking in public places like tea shops, bakeries, hotels, restaurants, near educational institutions, hospitals, offices, theaters, parks, bus stations, railway stations, cigarette and bidi butts will be collected safely in garbage bags across Bengaluru.
Sangliana said, "COTPA was introduced in 2003 and almost 20 years have passed since. For any law to be effective it has to be amended as time progresses. Though smoking in public places is restricted, we find this blatantly violated risking the lives of innocents by forcing them into passive smoking. Through the cigarette and bidi butt collection campaign, we urge the Union government to take an important step towards improving public health by amending COTPA 2003."
"Tobacco is a big threat to our children and youths. They fall prey to tobacco advertisements and consider smoking a cool habit. When the legal age of tobacco use is increased from existing 18 to 21 years, we can prevent our teenagers from tobacco abuse. Stringent regulations with hefty fines should be in place and this can happen if COTPA is strengthened through an amendment," said Gangambike.
Noted oncologist Ramesh Bilimagga, President of the Consortium for Tobacco Free Karnataka, said that World No Tobacco Day 2022 is being observed with the theme 'Tobacco: Threat to our Environment'.
"As a token of contribution, we would like to appeal to all citizens of Bangalore, organisations, and institutions to collect the cigarette and bidi butts in their neighborhood in bags provided," he said, urging the Central government to pass the COTPA Amendment Bill 2020 in the upcoming Monsoon Session of the Parliament.
If the COTPA bill is passed, the fine for smoking in public places will be Rs 2,000, the legal age to purchase tobacco products will go up from 18 to 21 years, and sale of loose cigarettes will be disallowed, among other stringent measures.