Chennai event highlights we aren’t doing enough against tobacco use


Pic: Ben Schumin/Wikimedia Commons

On May 20th, the Adyar Cancer Institute conducted a workshop to mark the observance of World No Tobacco Day (May 31). The workshop, themed ‘Tobacco: A Threat to Development’ aimed to sensitize and empower youngsters falling prey to tobacco addiction.

The event was inaugurated by Padma Vibhushan Dr. Shanta, Honorary Chairperson of the Cancer Institute, sitting Madras High Court Judge, Justice Kirubakaran and Tamil Nadu Traders Association President, Thiru. Ta. Velliyan. A crowd of 150 which included representations from various political parties and leading NGOs were present. Satta Panchayat Iyakkam, which has always advocated prohibition of smoking, actively participated in the event.

Adyar Cancer Institute, the brain child of India’s first woman legislator, Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddi, is a pioneer in India in the field of oncology research. To observe World No Tobacco Day (WNTD), the Institute conducted a training session to create awareness on the negative health effects of tobacco, which currently leads to nearly 6 million deaths each year globally, of which 600,000 result from non-smokers being exposed to passive smoke.

Statistics also clearly show that men have a higher percentage of cancer, the major reason being tobacco and smoking. Also oral and lung cancers dominate the variants of cancer, strongly re-establishing the fact “smoking causes cancer, smoking kills”. The National Cancer Registry programme of the Indian Council of Medical Research has data to show that there are 15,223 tobacco related cancers in TN and 4,02,000 in India.

Government apathy

At the event, the Indian law enacted in COTPA (The Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act, 2003) was explained in detail in the first session, led by Pranay Lal.

India is an early signatory of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control which creates an international obligation to exclude the tobacco lobby from the realms of policy making. After the lunch that was prepared exclusively using millets, President of MACT and crusader of the anti-tobacco campaign, Cyril Alexander explained the strong nexus between the tobacco lobby and politicians because of which tobacco couldn’t be banned in India.

An Indian MP in the Parliamentary Committee had gone to the extent of saying that there was no scientific proof to explain the links between tobacco and cancer. However, after determined efforts, the ban on public smoking was upheld by the Supreme Court in the “Murali Deora vs Union of India & others case”.

The government has also continuously neglected Ramesh Chandra committee’s recommendation to increase the legal age of using tobacco to 25 years, alleged Cyril Alexander.

In the final session, E Vidhubala, a professor at the Adyar Cancer Institute, pointed out that it was Vasco da Gama who brought in variants of tobacco to the country, after which tobacco production in India multiplied. She also pointed to the irony of explicit references to the promotion and safeguarding of the tobacco industry on the website of the Indian government’s commerce ministry.

The session concluded with the demonstration of a mobile app, Tobacco Monitor which provides information on tobacco-related regulation and enables the public to complain regarding violations of the same. All attending the event – NGOs, political parties and individuals — were requested to observe World Tobacco Day and spread awareness on the same.

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About Ranga Prasad 4 Articles
Rangaprasad is Joint Secretary of Satta Panchayat Iyakkam (SPI), a Tamil Nadu based NGO working for good governance. He is part of the Media & Research team and does policy research. A spokesperson of the NGO, he has represented SPI in prime TV debate shows.