Say No to Tobacco in Bihar at least, SC stays HC order

The ban on all smokeless tobacco products is set to be back in Bihar with the Supreme Court on Friday staying the Patna high court’s interim order against the ban.

Only bidi, cigarette and raw ‘khaini’ were exempted from the ban ordered by the state government on November 7 last year. Packaged ‘khaini’, which is mixed with additives; scented areca nut and scented tobacco (pan masala, zarda or any chewable tobacco product), whether packaged or unpackaged, were also banned.

When the ban was challenged in the Patna high court, the state government had contended that similar matters pertaining to other states were pending in the apex court. It, therefore, filed a transfer petition in the apex court on December 22 last year. However, the Patna high court passed an interim order staying the ban on December 23 last year.

The state government moved the apex court against the high court’s interim order. Hearing the state’s special leave petition, an apex court bench headed by CJI H L Dattu stayed the high court’s interim order for three months. While the tobacco industry was represented by Abhishek Manu Singhvi and Rajeev Dhawan, the state government was represented by Nagendra Rai and Rudreshwar Singh. The state government’s transfer petition is slated for hearing in July.

Bihar health secretary-cum-executive director of State Health Society of Bihar Anand Kishor said the state machinery would spring into action to effect the ban as soon as the government gets a copy of the Supreme Court order. The government may provide a window period of few days for tobacco traders to transport their products out of Bihar. A task force will be formed at district, subdivision and block levels, he said and added apart from officials of food safety wing, local administration and police officials would also be involved in implementing the ban.
Gutka has been banned in the state since 2012. “Now this blanket ban will help in better implementation of the ban on gutka as well� Though banned, it was being sold under the guise of other smokeless products,” Socio-Economic Educational Development Society executive director Deepak Mishra told TOI and pleaded for an aggressive campaign by food safety officials to implement this “across-the-board ban”.

Bihar is the biggest consumer of tobacco products in the country with every second person of the state consuming them in one form or another. A Union government study says the Bihar government spends over Rs 1,000 crore annually on treatment of tobacco-related ailments, which include hosts of cancers besides TB and heart disorders.

According to National Cancer Registration Programme, 50,000 people die due to cancer in Bihar every year – most of them due to consumption of tobacco products.