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COVID-19: Health Minister Harsh Vardhan Urge Ban on Tobacco Products in MP

In Health
May 22, 2020

A clutch of consumer organisations and public health experts today made a strong plea to the Madhya Pradesh government to continue its ban on sale and use of tobacco products and spitting in public places, saying such a step is imperative to prevent the spread of coronavirus pandemic in the state.

While reiterating the necessity for this ban, they referred to a recent appeal made by Union Health & Family Welfare Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan to all state health ministers, asking them to ban the sale and use of smokeless tobacco products and spitting in their states.

In his letter to the Health Ministers, Dr. Harsh Vardhan talked about tobacco use being a major threat to public health globally.

“Smokeless tobacco users have a tendency to spit in public places or otherwise and therefore, increase health risks, especially those of spreading infectious and contagious diseases like COVID-19, tuberculosis, swine flu, encephalitis etc. The use of smokeless tobacco also creates 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,” he stated in the letter.

While appreciating the efforts of the Jharkhand and Rajasthan governments for completely banning the sale of tobacco products and spitting in public places, he urged Madhya Pradesh Health Minister Dr. Narottam Mishra to take similar measures and also create widespread awareness regarding harms of spitting in public places.

Earlier, the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare had issued directions to all states and Union Territories to prohibit the use and spitting of chewing tobacco like gutka, khaini, paan masala and areca nut (supari) products in public places to prevent the coronavirus spread. The guidelines issued by Ministry of Home Affairs also stipulate that spitting in public places shall be punishable with fine and consumption of pan, gutka and tobacco etc in public places is not allowed.

“We applaud the Madhya Pradesh government for timely banning the sale and use of tobacco products and spitting in public places to prevent and control the spread of COVID-19 disease. We also urge them to continue the ban to protect the health of the people of the state and reduce their vulnerability to the corona infection,” said Ashim Sanyal, COO of New Delhi-based Consumer VOICE.

Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has also appealed to the public not to consume paan and spit smokeless tobacco products in public places. Chewing these products increases the production of saliva followed by a very strong urge to spit. Spitting in public places enhances the spread of the COVID-19 virus. By banning spitting in public places, the States/UTs can help in achieving not only Swachh Bharat but also Swastha Bharat (Clean India & Healthy India).

“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. When the infected person spits, the 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 Pradip Nandi, Director General, National Centre for Human Settlements and Environment, Bhopal.

COVID-19 is an infectious disease that primarily attacks the lungs. Smoking impairs functioning of lungs and weakens immune system, thus reducing the body’s ability to fight coronavirus and other infections. Tobacco is also a major risk factor for non-communicable diseases like cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, cancer and diabetes, and people with these comorbidities are at higher risk for developing severe illness when affected by COVID-19. Even if a person is not affected by COVID-19, it is a good time to stop smoking, which will improve immunity and lung function within a few months