The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India has said that over 25 states and union territories have banned the use of smokeless tobacco products including spitting in public places in light of the coronavirus outbreak. States like Maharashtra, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Assam and Delhi too have decided to implement the ban after the Health Ministry had asked all states on April 1 to prohibit the use and spitting of smokeless tobacco in public places in order to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
In a letter addressed to the Chief Secretaries of all states and UTs, the Health Ministry has stated that, "Chewing smokeless tobacco products, paan masala and areca nut (supari) increases the production of saliva followed by a very strong urge to spit. Spitting in public places could enhance the spread of the COVID-19 virus,". Furthermore, the statement said, "22 states and six UTs have banned the use of smokeless tobacco products and spitting in public places during the COVID-19 epidemic,".
Health experts across the country have acknowledged the government's latest decision to ban the use and sale of tobacco products and the act of spitting in public, which could further lead in the spread of the COVID-19 virus outbreak. In a statement, Bhavna Mukhopadhyay, Chief Executive, Voluntary Health Association of India said, "We applaud the government of India for taking the timely step of imposing a ban on the use of tobacco products and spitting in public places to prevent and control the spread of COVID-19 virus,". Ms. Mukhopadhyay further stated, "To protect their health and reduce risk of severe COVID-19 symptoms, we urge all smokers and tobacco users to quit, especially at this critical time,".
In a similar light, Prof Pratima Murthy, Professor and Head, Department of Psychiatry, National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences stated that the there is a huge risk in contracting the novel coronavirus by smoking and evidence is being produced regarding it with the passage of each day as it worsens the functioning of lungs while also reducing immunity. She said, "Smokers who develop COVID-19 infection have more complications and greater risk of fatality. Even if a person is not affected by coronavirus infection it is a good time to stop smoking. This improves immunity and can improve lung function within a few months,".
A rule has already been brought into effect where violators who spit tobacco in public places are being penalised in states like Assam, Chandigarh, Delhi, Jharkhand, Haryana, Gujarat, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh among others. Dr Rakesh Gupta, Consultant working for Tobacco Cessation said, "The ministry of health and state health departments should promote quitting tobacco maximally through electronic and social media to take advantage of the situation in which tobacco users are away from their usual triggers to use tobacco- shop, co-workers, stress, etc. and being at home, majority have the social support needed to quit. Hence, an opportunity exists to increase the quit rate for the country amid COVID-19 crisis,".
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