Centre calls for ban on smokeless tobacco to keep a lid on virus


The Centre on Friday urged states to ban the consumption of smokeless tobacco, as part of its measures to contain covid-19.

Chewing tobacco products, paan masala and areca nut increases the production of saliva followed by a very strong urge to spit, said a report by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and the health department.

“Spitting in public places could enhance the spread of the coronavirus,” the tobacco control unit of the ministry said in a letter to states. “Preventive measures may be taken to prohibit the use and spitting of chewing smokeless tobacco products in public.”

States and Union territories have the authority under the Epidemic Diseases Act,1897, the Disaster Management Act, 2005, and various provisions of the Indian Penal Code 1860 and the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPc) to deal with covid-19, it added.

“While spitting can spread covid, smoking increases chances of virus infection. There could be no better time to quit in the presence of family support because of the lockdown, with availability being low and there being an immediate motivation to avoid getting infected,” said Ravi Mehrotra, CEO, Indian Cancer Research Consortium, of ICMR.

The number of covid-19 cases in India shot up to 7,160 on Friday with 212 deaths. The highest number of cases remains in Maharashtra with 1,574 as the state recorded 210 new cases, followed by Tamil Nadu with 911 cases (77 new cases) and Delhi with 903 cases (183 new cases).

However, the Centre maintained that community transmission has not started and the samples collected indicate that the infection rate is not huge. “We did 16,000 tests in a day and only 0.2% cases have tested positive,” said Lav Agarwal, joint secretary, health ministry. “From one lab in centre in January, now we have 146 government labs are testing samples and 67 private labs have been given approval to conduct tests.”

“The timely pre-emptive, proactive and effective measures steps have helped us manage the situation and be prepared for any eventuality,” said Union health minister Harsh Vardhan, after reviewing the status of dedicated covid hospitals.

Meanwhile, a meeting of the empowered group of officers for tackling the pandemic was held on Friday under the chairmanship of P.K. Mishra, principal secretary to the Prime Minister. The meeting was the latest in a series of periodic reviews at various levels by the PMO to monitor the efforts to counter the virus.

Leroy Leo contributed to this story.

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