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No ban on chewing tobacco in Karnataka as Health Dept reverses order on AG’s advice

Bengaluru:  Five months after Karnataka banned all forms of chewing tobacco, the Health Department on Saturday reversed the order with clever wordplay. In November last year, it had submitted in the High Court about total compliance of the ban order.

The Food Safety Commissionerate, the implementing authority of the ban, issued a circular on Saturday stating that it is accepting the opinion of the Advocate General (AG). With this circular, the ban on chewing tobacco ban stands reversed.

Earlier, the Commisionerate had sought the AG’s opinion on its circular dated November 24, 2016 that directed designated officers in all districts to submit daily reports on four aspects — closure of number of chewing tobacco manufacturing units, quantity of chewing tobacco confiscated or seized, number of notices served and fines imposed, number of prosecutions initiated and to be initiated at additional deputy commissioner and magistrate courts.

The AG said that the department can neither shut manufacturing units nor confiscate chewing tobacco under the sections invoked in the circular. He suggested deleting clauses pertaining to these two aspects and replacing the words ‘chewing tobacco’ with ‘gutka’ and ‘pan masala’.

The AG had previously told Express that the department is well within its rights to shut manufacturing units or seize chewing tobacco under other sections of the law but not the sections of the Food Safety and Standards Act invoked in the circular — Section 59: Punishment for Unsafe Food and Section 66: Offences by Companies.

Asked how Saturday’s circular was in the health interest of the people, Principal Health Secretary Shalini Rajneesh said, “Chewing tobacco per se is not banned. The field officers shall seize tobacco and pan masala if they are sold conjointly.”

K V Dhananjay, advocate representing Cancer Patients Aid Association, said, “This modification shows that the state government has sold its conscience to the chewing tobacco lobby. We will approach the courts immediately and we are more than confident that public health will prevail in the courts and this modification will be quashed in no time.”

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