GUWAHATI, Sept 28 � In a joint and unanimous effort to ensure a tobacco-free Durga puja in Guwahati, leading organisations and government agencies such as Dr B Borooah Cancer Institute (BBCI), Guwahati, State Tobacco Control Cell (STCC), Voluntary Health Association of Assam (VHAA), Pothik, etc., have appealed to the district administration as well as the Puja committees to make all puja pandals in the city tobacco free.
In a joint meeting organised at the BBCI campus, it was decided that a group comprising representatives of BBCI, VHAA and STCC would soon meet the Deputy Commissioner, Kamrup (Metro) to seek his support in making the four-day Durga puja celebrations in the city tobacco free.
During the meeting, Dr AC Kataki, Director, BBCI, said, �It is alarming to note that Assam has one of the highest prevalence of tobacco-related cancers. According to the Global Adult Tobacco Survey carried out in 2010, 52.6 per cent of the male and 25.3 per cent of the female population in Assam use tobacco in some form or the other. Making all the puja pandals in the city tobacco-free zones will ensure that people visiting the pandals will not be exposed to second-hand smoke from cigarettes or bidis. Moreover, consumption of smokeless tobacco products like pan masala or gutkha will also be prohibited as per provisions of the COTPA.�
The appeal has been made to sensitize the public about the harmful effects of tobacco on health and for implementation of various provisions of the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act (COTPA).
�This has become necessary considering rising incidence of tobacco-related diseases like cancer, cardiovascular diseases and stroke in the State,� Dr Kataki said.
Dr Arundhati Deka, State Nodal officer for Tobacco Control and Pratul Chandra Phukan, retd DIG of Police and team leader for Tobacco Control (VHAA), both categorised the puja pandals as public places and stated that under Section 4 of the Cigarette and Other Tobacco Products Act (COTPA), 2003, smoking in all public places was strictly prohibited.
According to Section 4 of COTPA, �Public Place� is defined as any place to which the public has access whether as of right or not and includes all places visited by general public.
Besides banning smoking in public, Section 4 of COTPA also mandates that display of �No Smoking� signage according to the mandatory specification (60cm x 30cm) should be prominently displayed at both entry and exit points of all public places.
Strict compliance of Section 4 of COTPA during the puja festivity would not only help bring in awareness against public smoking but also protect people from the menace of second hand smoke.
The joint team of BBCI, VHAA and STCC and other civil society members were optimistic that the district administration as well as the Puja committees would take all the necessary steps to ensure that all puja pandals are tobacco-free zones.