New Delhi: Federation of Retailer Association of India (FRAI), a representative body of micro, small and medium retailers, on Thursday urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to order recall of proposed amendments in law on cigarettes and other tobacco products insisting the changes threaten to further attack livelihoods of petty retailers selling tobacco products across India.
FRAI, which claims to represent 4 crore micro, small and medium retailers from across India with membership of 34 retail associations from northern, southern, eastern and western part of the country, said small retailers are already reeling under impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and “this fresh attack will be devastating for their families”.Also Read - FRAI Urges Govt to Allow Small Shops to Open, Asks 'Why Big Grocery Shops Permitted to Run & Not Us'?

The association said it and its member organisations from “all over the country are disturbed by the undemocratic amendment of COTPA (Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act) Bill 2020 proposed by the Ministry of Health, which disallows retail sale of loose sticks of cigarettes, prohibits sale of tobacco products persons below 21 years, put controls on in-shop advertising and promotion amongst others, as they seemed to be aimed at destroying the business for the smaller retailers without impacting large retailers”.

The coronavirus-triggered lockdowns and economic destruction has further damaged the economic condition of small retailers and any further adverse policy which destabilises their business activity will be devastating…And this fresh attack will be devastating for their families, FRAI said in a statement.

Urging a recall of the proposed 2020 amendments in the COTPA law, FRAI said the changes “threaten to further attack the livelihoods of petty retailers selling tobacco and related products across India”.

FRAI President Ram Asre Mishra said, “We humbly appeal for the Prime Minister's empathy and request him to instruct the designated ministry to immediately roll back the proposed COTPA amendments as they are extremely harsh.”

By making age-old trade practices like selling loose cigarettes a cognizable offence and an imprisonment of seven years for small violations makes small traders look like heinous criminals, he stated.

Compared to a two-year imprisonment for extortion or for dangerous driving that can cause death, this is the extreme of the extremes. This puts paan, bidi and cigarette sellers in the same crime list category as a person voluntarily throwing acid on someone or causing death by negligence, he added.

Mishra further said, “Already India has the toughest tobacco control laws in the world which has led to degrowth in legal tobacco consumption. Current laws have only helped illicit and smuggled cigarettes to grow benefiting anti-social elements.”

Petty retailers also asked the government for exemption for any such licensing requirement under the proposed amendment saying perpetual harassment will increase under the guise of administrative control.