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Be ready for a backlash: WHO tells anti-tobacco fighters

Sep 11, 2013

As India gears for an ‘endgame for tobacco’, WHO boss, Dr Margaret Chan, today spoke to rid the world of the one product it doesn’t need.

New Delhi: Even as Dr Margaret Chan, Director General, World Health Organisation (WHO), congratulated India for banning oral tobacco products in most of its states, she cautioned about a backlash from the powerful tobacco industry which could influence legislations in its favour. “Endgame strategies threaten tobacco industries and there could be a strong backlash in the form of legislations,” she warned.

Speaking at the ‘International Conference on Public Health Priorities in the 21st Century: The Endgame for Tobacco’, Dr Chan said tobacco trade interferes with health and economic policies of countries. “Most of the endgame strategies depend on capacities but unfortunately the developing countries do not have the required capacity to tackle the tobacco menace,” she said.

Giving a clarion call against the spreading tobacco menace globally, Dr Chan categorically said that tobacco is one product which the world does not need. Tobacco is projected to cause 1 billion deaths all over the world, she added.

India’s Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, rued that India had the highest number of smokeless tobacco users in the world. “India’s recent ban on Gutkha in 33 of the 35 states and union territories is a definite step towards achieving tobacco endgame. The Government of India is working towards integrating the National Programme for Prevention and Control of Cancer, Diabetes, Cardiovascular Disease and Stroke (NPCDCS) with the National Tobacco Control Programme (NTCP),” he said.

Azad stressed that India was keenly observing global developments such as plain packaging of tobacco products adopted by Australia and the policy debates on tobacco free future generations and endgame objectives adopted by Finland. “We shall do whatever it can to partner WHO and international community to precipitate the endgame and secure a healthy and disease free future for the global youth. With the former cricket captain of India, Rahul Dravid, agreeing to be Health Ministry’s Ambassador for tobacco control, we will be able to have a positive impact on the large number of people.”

Highlighting that India had the highest number of oral cancers in the world, Azad also called for issuing horrifying pictorial warnings on tobacco products.

India’s Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh participating in the conference through a video message called for a combination of political and public health action for combating both demand and supply of tobacco.

“India is a party to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), hence is firmly committed to the vision of a tobacco free society. As we act with conviction and commitment to eliminate tobacco as a threat to human health, I am sure this conference will contribute substantially to developing implementable and impactful strategies for stamping out tobacco as a danger to our collective future,” Singh said.

Dr K Srinath Reddy, President, Public Health Foundation of India and President, World Heart Federation urged for an immediate need to mobilise tobacco control measures globally. “If unchecked, the menace of tobacco abuse could claim over a billion lives in the 21st century globally,” he said.

“This Conference will also call for resolution to fight tobacco post the 2015 UN sustainable development agenda,” Dr Reddy added.

Avni Sharma, a youth advocate from India, felt the strong need to involve youth for ushering a strong anti-tobacco movement. Avni lamented that tobacco killed young people at the peak of their productive age. “It is shocking to learn that tobacco killed 100 million people in the twentieth century. There is a pressing need for informed youth who could become agents of social change,” she said.

The conference which had over 500 participants from more than 55 countries was organised by India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, along with Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) and Health Related Information Dissemination Amongst Youth (HRIDAY).

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