It has become necessary to go back to the long-winded bit of legislation called the Assam Health (Prohibition of Manufacturing, Advertisement, Trade, Storage, Distribution, Sale and Consumption of Zarda, Gutkha, Panmasala, etc., containing Tobacco) Act, 2013 (briefly known as the Anti-Tobacco Act) for the simple reason that this law of 2013 has not yet been implemented even though it was ected in the Assam Assembly in 2013. It will be recalled that when the Bill was passed in 2013, it had generated a positive response among the people despite the fact that that the law, for some inexplicable reason, had left out cigarettes, cigars and bidis even though tobacco used for smoking obviously caused more harm than chewed tobacco besides doing great harm also to others exposed to tobacco smoke. The exclusion of cigarettes from the ambit of the Anti-Tobacco Act was obviously due to the tobacco lobby being up in arms against the new law. Surprisingly, some petitioners moved the Gauhati High Court and the Supreme Court against the Act. They were allegedly backed by tobacco companies who had a vested interest in scuttling such a law because extending the Act to include cigarettes as well was a logical next step that could not be ruled out. After all, too many people were beginning to raise the question as to why tobacco used for smoking should have been left out of the ambit of such an important bit of legislation. Contrary to general expectations, the Supreme Court recently disposed of the case stating that a similar issue was pending before the Gauhati High Court. Hearing the writ petition No.383/2014 (Udai Chaurasia & Ors vs. State of Assam) the apex court, in its judgement said that the Gauhati High Court will do the needful to dispose of the matter, and also asked the high court to expedite the hearing of the writ petition. The Supreme Court also said, “We clarify that we have not considered this petition on merits and we are disposing of this petition simply because (a) similar issue is pending in the High Court.” Now that the Gauhati High Court has been entrusted with the task of hearing petitions against the Anti-Tobacco Act by the Supreme Court, we are confident that it will deal with the petition in the context of the reasons that had motivated the Assam government to bring in such a law. The main reason for bringing in such a law for the State is the mindless consumption of tobacco by the people of the State in different forms—in a moist, raw state with betel leaf and areca nut or in a dry form and mixed with dry lime to be tucked between the lower lip and the gums. In any case, whether it is the tobacco itself or the lime that is combined with it, tobacco consumption has given rise to far too many cases of oral cancer in Assam. And neither the government nor the people have paid much attention to smoking that that holds out the threat of cancer not only to the smoker but to passive smokers long exposed to cigarette smoke. We fail to understand why the Assam government that has ected an anti-tobacco law should have failed to include the more deadly form of tobacco use in the purview of the new law. After all, it is an acknowledged fact that smoking is more responsible for lung cancer than the other uses of tobacco are for other forms of cancer. And in respect of the other modes of tobacco consumption, we have no means yet of determining whether it is the tobacco or the lime consumed along with the tobacco that causes oral cancer. As such, most right-thinking people are astonished that a newly ected law banning the manufacture, advertisement, storage, distribution, trade, sale and consumption of tobacco does not include tobacco that is smoked even though smoking is a more hazardous use of tobacco. One can hardly blame them for inferring that the exclusion of cigarettes, cigars and bidis was due to pressure from influential tobacco companies. The Assam government would do well to rid itself of this card by including tobacco smoking within the purview of an amended Anti-Tobacco Act.
The Anti-Tobacco Act