November 25, 2014 / 8:58 AM / 5 years ago

India moves toward ban on loose cigarettes to deter smoking

MUMBAI (Reuters) - India moved a step closer to banning the sale of unpackaged cigarettes, with a view to discourage smoking in a country where close to a million people each year die of tobacco-related diseases.

Gopal Kishan (R), 15, smokes a cigarette as he drinks with his friends on the outskirts of their village near Kota, Rajasthan, July 17, 2012. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui/Files

More than 70 percent of the cigarettes sold in India are loose.

The health ministry has accepted the recommendation of an internal panel and will seek cabinet approval before imposing the ban, Health Minister J.P. Nadda told parliament in a written statement on Tuesday.

Shares in India’s largest cigarette maker, ITC Ltd (ITC.NS), fell 5.2 percent, its biggest daily drop in five months, and Godfrey Phillips India Ltd (GDFR.NS) lost nearly 9 percent. By comparison, the Nifty fell 0.8 percent.

As many as 900,000 people in India die from tobacco-related diseases a year, and that number could jump to 1.5 million by 2020, the International Tobacco Control Project estimates.

India is a party to The World Health Organization (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which states that countries “shall endeavour” to prohibit sales of loose cigarettes, which are more affordable for minors.

The panel’s recommendation also calls for an increase in the minimum legal age for buying tobacco products and a rise in the penalties for violators. Details on how the government would implement such a ban on single smokes were not disclosed.

Morgan Stanley said the proposed ban was a “clear sentiment negative” for ITC, although implementing it would be difficult. Cigarette companies could introduce smaller pack sizes to cushion the impact of the proposed policy change, it said.

ITC and Godfrey Phillips did not respond to requests for comment.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, which took office six months ago, has been adopting measures to curb India’s tobacco consumption. Last month it increased taxes on tobacco products and ordered companies to stamp health warnings across 85 percent of the surface of cigarette packs.

Reporting by Zeba Siddiqui in Mumbai; Writing by Devidutta Tripathy; Editing by Sumeet Chatterjee and Jane Baird

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