Stringent measures have been planned for two months to make Tamil Nadu completely free from banned tobacco products, such as gutkha and pan masala, Health Minister Ma. Subramanian said.
A three-pronged strategy is being put in place for the same — checks on shops selling the banned items, spreading awareness on the ill-effects of tobacco use and roping in traders to take a pledge not to sell banned tobacco products.
Shops found selling the products will first be served a notice, followed by the imposition of fine, and later, sealing of the premises if they continue to violate norms, he told reporters on the sidelines of a State-level coordination meeting held with food safety officers, the police and the Local Administration Department on tobacco control.
In every district, awareness on the ill-effects of tobacco use will be created, he said, adding, “Mannequins depicting the effects of tobacco on one’s health and the damage it can cause will be installed in at least 50 places, such as entrances to schools and colleges and places where people converge, like markets. Collectors can bring traders together and make them take a pledge not to sell these products that pose health hazards to the people,” he said.
All three departments will work together for two months. District-level officials who ensure that their district is free from banned tobacco will receive appreciation certificates from the Chief Minister, he said.
He said action would be taken on officials responsible, after due inquiry, if they are unable to keep a check on banned tobacco items.
Speaking at the meeting, he told food safety officers to hold coordination meetings with the Local Administration and Police departments in their respective districts. Coordination committees could be formed at the block and taluk levels, to carry out checks and take action on shops found selling tobacco products, he said.
The sale of tobacco products continues, despite steps as per provisions of the law and the imposition of fines, he said. “So we need to increase the fine amount and make the punishment more stringent,” he said.
Soon after news spread about the meeting, the Minister said he received 10 to 15 messages on WhatsApp, providing information about shops selling the banned tobacco products, wholesale agents and the modus operandi of bringing in banned products. He said the identity of those who share information would be kept confidential. “We have shared the information with senior police officials. There are certain code words that both buyers and sellers are aware of for getting gutkha… I was informed that the banned products are brought in vehicles from Bengaluru that carry vegetable loads,” he said.