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India’s Anti-Tobacco Crusaders make Impact on Global Fight for Smoke-Free Lives

April 10, 2012 - Mumbai, Maharashtra, India

-- India is currently the world’s second largest consumer of tobacco

-- Smoking will soon account for 20 per cent of all male deaths and 5 per cent of all female deaths between the ages of 30 and 69 here

-- Over 6,00,000 Indian men aged between 25 and 69 years die of smoking-related illnesses each year

India’s tobacco-related health problems were in focus at the recently concluded World Conference on Tobacco or Health (WCTOH), the world’s leading platform for tobacco control, drawing over 2,600 delegates from over 100 countries. India was represented by prominent anti-tobacco activists Dr. Prakash C. Gupta, Director of Healis Sekhsaria Institute for Public Health; Dr. Monica Arora, Director, HRIDAY; Mr. Mangesh Pednekar, Deputy Director of Healis Sekhsaria Institute for Public Health, and Karabi Majumdar, a social anthropologist, among others.

The Indian contingent sparked discussion on strategic ways to improve tobacco control and prevent consumption of all forms of tobacco, particularly in vulnerable populations such as youth and women.

India is already a signatory to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) - the first international treaty proposed by the World Health Organisation. However, much more needs to be done to reduce adverse public health consequences of tobacco use in India, experts said.

Government Dilemma – Revenue vs. Public Health Solutions

According to Dr. Srinath Reddy, Director, Public Health Foundation of India, governments often face the difficult dilemma of balancing tobacco industry revenues with public health measures that promote its control. His presentation at the conference centred on the fact that in India, tobacco-related healthcare costs alone exceed tobacco revenues and outlined strategies to equip the health ministry to win out over the revenue ministry with regard to tobacco control.

“India is unique in that it faces a huge, hidden problem of smokeless tobacco in the form of industrially manufactured gutka”, said Dr. Gupta, who is one of the world’s leading experts on smokeless tobacco. “While women don’t normally smoke in India, they do consume smokeless tobacco and are often unaware of its harmful consequences. There is a need to do more local research and come up with strategies to curb tobacco use in vulnerable populations,” he said.

Dr. Gupta said that one of the key accomplishments of the conference was the breaking of the myth that smokeless tobacco is somehow safer than cigarettes. “Data was presented to demonstrate that not only do such products cause oral cancer but also heart diseases and have adverse reproductive outcomes when used by pregnant women,” he said.

Dr. Gupta added that smokeless tobacco is a serious global problem which is slated to grow with the intense marketing undertaken by the tobacco industry.

At the conference, Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organisation, urged countries to stand shoulder-to-shoulder in the fight against tobacco industry interference.

Global recognition of India’s activists

This year, the prestigious Luther L. Terry Award went to Dr. Mira Aghi, a respected Indian behavioral scientist, in recognition of her leadership in the tobacco control movement and contribution to international tobacco control. Notably, India merited this award at the last 2009 conference as well in recognition of the achievements of Dr. Reddy.

Dr. Aghi said, “I am humbled by this award. This kind of international recognition is indeed overwhelming. This acts as a huge support for my cause and a gives me a sense of pride in what I do, in addition to being a source of motivation.”

Dr. Aghi added that that has been no large-scale education to educate people about the harms of smokeless tobacco. “As a result, its use has become commonplace. Since the arrival of manufactured smokeless tobacco in the market, women and children have started using it and are getting addicted. Dr. Margaret Chan, Director General, World Health Organisation, boldly condemned the surrogate marketing of tobacco by major players in this industry in the garb of corporate social responsibility. Smokeless tobacco is a debilitating agent with health impacts much more severe, disabling, and disproportionate than is widely realised,” she said.

Global planning with local relevance

The conference also gave academics and activists a chance to learn from successful approaches to tobacco control in various other parts of the world. Dr. Monika Arora, who is director of a non-profit organization, HRIDAY-SHAN, said that the conference had really lived up to its theme of global planning for local action.

Key takeaways included lessons from Australia’s experience with plain packaging and ways to resist tobacco industry interference. “There were strong lessons in how tobacco industry interference can be effectively countered by bringing in multi-sectoral partnerships within government and between non-profit organisations,” she said.

Tobacco Atlas details the scale of global epidemic

Another key feature at the conference was the release of the fourth edition of The Tobacco Atlas by the American Cancer Society and World Lung Foundation.

The Atlas graphically details the scale of the tobacco epidemic, the progress that has been made in tobacco control, and the latest products and tactics being deployed by the highly profitable tobacco industry such as the use of new media, trade litigation and aggressive development of smokeless products. Some statistics specific to India are below:

-- Over 20 per cent of Indian adults consume smokeless tobacco

-- Tobacco consumption impoverished roughly 15 million people in India in 2004.

-- Despite their small size, bidis tend to deliver more tar and carbon monoxide than manufactured cigarettes because users must puff harder to keep them lit

The topics presented by the Indian delegates included:

-- ‘The impact of globalization of the tobacco industry on world health’ by Dr. Srinath Reddy.

-- ‘Tobacco Economics vs Tobacco Revenues’ by Dr. Srinath Reddy.

-- ‘Tobacco and Vulnerable Populations; how the tobacco industry targets women and children’ by Dr. Mira Aghi.

-- ‘The Global Impact of Smokeless Tobacco’ by Dr. Prakash C. Gupta.

-- Tobacco and Vulnerable Populations’ (Malnutrition, poverty and smoking. Looking for legislative responses) by Mangesh Pednekar.

-- ‘Alternative Tobacco Use: Is the FCTC currently adequate?’ (Are bidis covered by tobacco control policies in Asia? Experiences in policy implementation) by Dr. Monika Arora.

About the World Conference On Tobacco OR Health:

WCTOH is one of the world’s most prestigious platforms on tobacco control, where the best and most dedicated experts and leaders congregate for debate, exchange of perspectives and overall pursuit of greater solidarity against tobacco use. The overall objectives of WCTOH are to:

-- Provide a platform to build countries‟ capacity in tobacco control through the sharing of best practices, experiences, knowledge and research.

-- Strengthen the next generation of tobacco control advocates through a youth preconference and the participation of youth delegates at the main conference.

-- Renew the commitment to fight the global tobacco epidemic through the conference declaration.

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Source: Business Wire India


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