The Bombay High Court on Wednesday asked the Maharashtra government to inform the court of the steps it can take to protect cigarette smokers, who as per the state, were more vulnerable to contracting COVID-19. A bench of Justices SP Deshmukh and GS Kulkarni asked Maharashtra Advocate General Ashutosh Kumbhakoni to file an affidavit listing such steps by next week.
It was hearing a bunch of public interest litigations on the management of drugs and resources related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The HC’s direction came after Kumbhakoni told the bench that experts at the Tata Memorial Centre, that works under the Union government’s Atomic Energy Department, had submitted their opinion before the state government on June 15 referring to various global studies “indicating that smokers were more vulnerable" to contracting COVID-19.
Kumbhakoni said a majority of the studies the experts had referred to, stated that smokers were more vulnerable to contracting the deadly viral infection and also that the degree of severity of the disease was higher in people who smoked cigarettes. Only three of the several reports that the Tata Memorial Centre (which provides comprehensive cancer care) referred to had given a contrary opinion, he said.
“COVID-19 affects our respiratory system. People who smoke already have their respiratory system compromised," Kumbhakoni said. The state’s top law officer said he will place the details of the expert opinion through an affidavit by June 25, the next date of hearing.
“Then let us know what steps can the state government take to protect smokers if they are more vulnerable," the bench said. During a previous hearing, a bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice GS Kulkarni had asked the state government if there existed any connection between cigarette smoking and severity of the COVID-19 infection. It had also said at the time that the state should consider a temporary ban on sale of cigarettes and bidis.
On June 10, during the hearing on the same bunch of pleas, Kumbhakoni had told the court that following HC’s query, the state government had been inundated with responses by several cigarette manufacturers, who had denied any links between smoking and a higher risk of contracting COVID-19.