Coming down heavily on sale of tobacco products near educational institutions, particularly schools, Madras High Court on Monday directed the Tamil Nadu government to immediately form special squads to conduct surprise raids on shops located near them. Justice N Kirubakaran, who passed the order on a petition by one T C Sharath, directed the state Health and Welfare Department, Director General of Police and Commissioner of Police, Chennai, to form the squads immediately to conduct surprise raids of shops located within 100 yards of the institutions and seize tobacco products. The petitioner had sought a direction against shopkeepers who sell tobacco products to students and action against smokers in public places.
The judge directed the authorities to confiscate the products seized as per Section 14 of Cigarettes and other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution Act, 2003 (COPTA ACT). He also directed them to remove and confiscate advertisements of tobacco products placed near schools, book those persons who smoke in Public Places as per section 21 of the Act and to file a report in court by June 20.
The judge referred to an observation by King James I of England that smoking is hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain and dangerous to the lungs and said it was shocking to know that there is extensive use of tobacco products among school going children. He said though statues and rules mandate that shops located within 100 yards of educational institutions should refrain from selling tobacco products, it is found that many such shops sell tobacco products, violating rules.
The judge referred to surveys by various authorities and organisations and said these showed that among 13 to 15 year old school going students in Chennai, tobacco usage is high and in line with those found in studies done in Gujarat, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, and North Eastern States. He observed that cigarette smoking outside school campus was reported to be high proportion among the youth. He referred to a Supreme Court order, prohibiting smoking in public places like auditoriums, hospital buildings and Health Institutions and said that in view of the above order, "it is necessary and it is the bounden duty of all concerned to safeguard the people, especially children, from the evil effects of smoking, tobacco use and passive smoking." The Judge also directed that steps be taken to punish those who sell cigarettes or other tobacco products to persons aged below 18 years as per Section 24 of the act. He then posted the matter to June 20.