In April 2021, while hearing a plea on Covid-19 management in Maharashtra, the High Court recommended putting a ban on the sale of cigarettes and bidis during the pandemic, as it would greatly affect the lungs of those infected
By: Surbhi kumari, Amity University, Patna
The Bidi and Tobacco Traders and Federation of Retailers have filed a plea before the Bombay High Court claiming that people who smoke cigarettes and other nicotine products are less vulnerable to COVID-19. The plea has been filed as intervention applications in a suit pending before the High Court relating to alleged improper management of COVID-19 treatment in the State of Maharashtra.
A division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice GS Kulkarni permitted the intervention applications and posted the hearing on this issue for the next week.
The applicants, Mumbai Bidi Tambakhu Vyapari Sangh and Federation of Retailers Association of India have sought intervention in that case, wherein the Bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice GS Kulkarni had suggested, during its hearing in April 2021, that cigarettes and bidis should be temporarily banned during the pandemic period considering it may have a correlation with the rise in COVID severe cases.
Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni submitted a report by the Director of the Tata Memorial Centre working under the Atomic Energy Department of Central government indicating that smokers were a more vulnerable group to contracting COVID-19.
He submitted that a majority of the studies indicated that the degree of severity of the COVID infection was higher in people who smoked cigarettes.
In response, Senior Advocate Ravi Kadam, appearing for the Federation of Retailers, submitted his contrary opinion based on studies conducted by the Council for Scientific & Industrial Research.
He submitted that a report by CSIR indicated that the smokers were less vulnerable to the COVID-19 infection. He further claimed the article in fact stated that smoking protects persons from COVID-19 infection.
Mr. Setalvad, learned senior advocate appearing for the applicant in Interim Application No. 1342 of 2021, viz. Mumbai Bidi Tambakhu Vyapari Sangh submitted that there are research and media reports which present evidence that smoking helps “prevent and relieve Covid-19,” based on the pleadings as well as reports annexed to the application.
The court took note of paragraph 13 of the application which stated that reports/studies have negated any correlation between smoking and susceptibility to Covid-19 and instead suggest using “nicotine as a potential preventive agent against Covid-19 infection.”
It was also stated that nicotine which is a substance present in cigarettes purportedly prevents the COVID virus from entering the lungs.
The Court observed that this statement in the application seemed to indicate that there was no correlation between smoking and the susceptibility of COVID-19. When the Court expressed reservation for relying on a report submitted by CSIR on a subject under the medical field, considering that the CSIR does not have expertise in the medical field, the counsel responded that the reports were made after consulting doctors.
The Court then agreed to hear the intervention applications in detail on the limited issue of the effect of smoking on the COVID and posted the case for hearing on July 8.