A day after the Madras High Court directed the State government to strictly curb tobacco sale, the city police and civic body cracked the whip on smoking in public places and shops selling tobacco products near schools.
As a result, 405 people were booked under the section 21 of the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act (COTPA) for smoking in public places. Each person was fined an amount of `200, a police official said.
More than a 150 people were booked in the Anna Nagar police district while in Ambattur, Pulianthope and Washermanpet, more than 60 people were booked.
Police sources said that raids were conducted in six of the twelve police districts so far – Flower Bazaar, Washermanpet, St Thomas Mount, Pulianthope, Anna Nagar and Ambattur. In the coming days, joint raids with teams from the public health and civic body would be conducted, police added.
Meanwhile, a senior official from the health wing of Greater Chennai Corporation, said, “The Corporation swung into action right from Tuesday evening by raiding shops near schools in Adyar, Guindy and Velachery.”
The official added that during these searches it was evident that it was not just cigarettes that most shops had stocked, but also carcinogenic forms of tobacco (gutka, pan masala, etc).
In the coming days, raids would intensify on those selling tobacco near educational institutions, especially schools, as per the High court directive, police said.
K Kolandaswamy, Director of Public Health said that there were 43 squads in the State to keep a check on tobacco sale and in the capital city, an eight-member squad, including a police personnel, health inspector and tobacco control officer, would conduct inspection at the rate of one area a day, he added.
The department, apart from inspecting sale within 100 yards of schools, would also check if the 85 per cent of pictorial warning on tobacco products are followed, and seize the items in case of violations, added Kolandaswamy.
It is to be recalled that Justice N Kirubakaran of the Madras High Court gave the direction on Monday on a petition from T C Sharath of Studio 11 of Kodambakkam, seeking action against those who smoke in public and against shopkeepers, who sell tobacco products to students. The judge directed the authorities to confiscate the products and book those who smoke in public places as per Section 21 of the Act and file a report before the court by June 20.
While the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act prohibited sale of tobacco products in 2003, the Tamil Nadu government had banned manufacture, storage and sale of these products in 2013. The ban was recently extended till May 2017.
Since 2008, Tobacco Control unit of the State Public Health department has collected a fine amount of `1.61 crore. Fourteen civil cases and two criminal cases were registered last year. Despite imposing penalties (`2.4 lakh) and seizing banned products (62,000 kg), they continue to be available in the market, said a food safety official.
Lack of strict enforcement has helped wholesalers to sell them with a 100 per cent increase in price, annually.