Union Health Minister asks Goa to ban sale of tobacco products, spitting in public

Panjim: Union Minister for Health Harsh Vardhan has appealed to the Goa government to ban the sale and use of tobacco and smokeless tobacco products and spitting in public places as one of the steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

In a letter to Health Minister Vishwajit Rane, Vardhan said smokeless tobacco users have a tendency to spit in public places, increasing health risks, especially those of spreading contagious diseases like COVID-19, tuberculosis, swine flu, encephalitis and others.

The Minister also said that smokeless tobacco also creates an unhygienic environment which further spreads the diseases. Large gatherings at the retail outlets where smokeless tobacco products are sold, also pose the risk of spread of COVID-19.

The appeal, which is been made to all the States, comes after the Rajasthan and Jharkhand governments issued orders in this regard to prevent the spread of the coronavirus infection.

Goa too has ‘Goa Prohibition of Smoking and Spitting Act, 1997’, under which police and mamlatdars have been given powers to ensure its implementation and take action. However, the same is not implemented.

In the letter dated May 11, the Union minister underlined that tobacco use is a major threat to public health globally, while quoting Indian Council of Medical Research’s (ICMR) appeal to the public not to consume and spit smokeless tobacco products in public places.

Spitting in public places could enhance the spread of the Covid-19, Vardhan said.

Vardhan also mentioned the May 1 guidelines issued by the Union Home Ministry under the National Disaster Management Act, 2005, which stipulate that “spitting in public places shall be punishable with fine as may be prescribed by the state/UT local authority and consumption of liquor, pan, gutkha, tobacco etc in public places is not allowed”.

“Therefore, I urge upon government to create widespread awareness in your State/UT regarding harms of splitting in public places. It is also requested that directions of Ministry of Home Affairs in this regard may be implemented scrupulously and effectively,” he added.

Welcoming the move, the National Organisation For Tobacco Eradication (NOTE), urged the State government to ban the sale and use of tobacco products and spitting in public places.

“The use of smokeless products is particularly problematic during the pandemic because it increases the urge to spit, as chewing of tobacco leads to spitting which contains bacteria, so when the infected person spits, the entire virus is loaded into that saliva and the droplets are then thrown in the air. This risks the entire population in the sphere of influence or radius.” said Dr Shekhar Salkar, secretary NOTE. [H]