Say no to tobacco, tobacco products

'World No Tobacco Day' on May 31


Vasanthkumar Mysoremath

By Vasanthkumar Mysoremath

Prime News, National and International, Health, Disease, Smoking, Tobacco, Mysuru, May 29:- ‘World No Tobacco Day’ is being observed on Monday (May 31). Like every year, this year also a theme has been prescribed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) – “Commit to Quit” (consumption of tobacco products). Gullible people continue to use smoke and smokeless tobacco (SLT) products that are made available in every nook and corner of the world knowing well that every 8th second, a person is dying an untimely death due to diseases attributable to consumption of tobacco products.

Prescribing a theme every year by WHO starting from the year 1988 was in response to a resolution No WHA40 passed by WHO in its World Health Assembly in 1987. This has become a routine and themes like tobacco and lung health, tobacco is a threat to development, get ready for plain packaging, stop illicit trade of tobacco products, raise taxes on tobacco, ban tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, stop tobacco industry interference, why framework convention on tobacco control, gender and tobacco with an emphasis on marketing to women, tobacco health warnings, tobacco-free youth, smoke-free inside, tobacco: deadly in any form or disguise, health professionals against tobacco, tobacco and poverty, a vicious circle, tobacco-free film, tobacco-free fashion, tobacco-free sports, second-hand smoke kills, tobacco kills, don’t be duped, leave the pack behind, growing up without tobacco, united for a tobacco-free world, sport and art without tobacco: play it tobacco-free, tobacco costs more than you think, the media and tobacco: get the message across, etc.

They are being prescribed to highlight the tobacco control mechanisms contained in articles of the WHO Framework Convention of Tobacco Control (FCTC) protocol signed by 184 countries.

Have themes achieved their goals?

But these themes can only be considered as peripheral in nature and results are there to see. Tobacco companies continue to earn profits even in dire times like world catastrophes, the latest being the Covid-19 pandemic. The tobacco industry continues to interfere in each and every proposed control mechanism, it is successfully making incursions into community service under the guise of corporate social responsibility funding or supply of medicines, oxygen, solid waste management, continues to introduce newer and novel versions of tobacco products like e-cigarettes, vaping, hookah, chocolates for attracting even children to become lifetime slaves of their products.

The industry continues to provide assistance to farmers to ensure the quality of the crop. The industry has close ties with farmers for making their important political allies for ensuring their gratitude to the tobacco company.

‘Commit to quit’: Onus on tobacco consumers

By prescribing the theme “Commit to quit” WHO ostensibly expects that there would be an improvement in the health of the people and a reduction in demand for tobacco products. With this theme, the onus has been squarely placed at the doorstep of the consumer to take care of his health, in these days of the COVID pandemic and its variants/waves. Is quitting easy?

Is it possible to create such a strong will power in chain smokers or heavy smokers? The time has come for smokers to understand that they have no alternative to give up smoking because of its ill effects during the pandemic and also how it is a miserable experience for smokers to wear face masks and invite more bacteria into their lungs.

It is a double whammy and it is time for them to consider – health or death! They must understand that this is a golden opportunity period to quit, improve health and also a chance to save lakhs of rupees – for example, a smoker can save Rs12,10,000 in 20 years in case he is daily buying a pack of 10 cigarettes costing Rs170; in addition, due to various ill effects money being spent for medical treatment can also be saved. It would be a win-win situation for smokers. Further, smokers must be aware that their lungs need oxygen and not poisonous smoke that contains hundreds of chemicals that weaken the lungs.

What about the commitment of policymakers?

What is not fathomable is, why the core issue of complete banning of cultivation of tobacco crop be considered seriously and implemented as directed in FCTC Article 17 that states “Parties shall, in cooperation with each other and with competent international and regional intergovernmental organisations, promote, as appropriate, economically viable alternatives for tobacco workers, growers and, as the case may be, individual sellers.”

How come this all-important core direction of FCTC is not prescribed in any of the above themes year on year? The time to act is now. How come FCTC protocol signatory countries that are allowing tobacco crop cultivation for supply to the tobacco industry that is making profits at the cost of public health even during the deadly Covid pandemic? Why are these countries adopting dual policies?

WHO must also take note of these weak links, and consider adopting a more stringent policies for countering the aggressiveness of the tobacco industry. There appears to be no meaning in soft-peddling tobacco control measures in the world. By adopting stringent tobacco control mechanism, it should be possible for India to achieve the target of tobacco control laid down in goal No 3a of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

Time to act

Policymakers should ensure that cultivation, processing, production and marketing of tobacco products are brought to zero levels by 2025 by declaring a gradual/annual reduction in crop size, the area under cultivation; stopping subsidies/loans;  encouraging farmers to adopt alternate crops by extending a golden handshake financially for clearing their never-ending loans for surrendering their licenses/barns; stopping renewal of lapsed licenses and further renewals; banning import of all contraband and stop smuggling; divesting all shares of tobacco companies for creating a corpus for rehabilitating the tobacco farmers who give up tobacco cultivation; number of dependents on the tobacco industry and trade is minuscule – this should not be an excuse to continue to grow tobacco that kills millions of people by luring them into this deadly tobacco habit

(The Mysuru-based writer is honorary advisor on tobacco, Cancer Patients Aid Association, convener, Anti-Tobacco Forum)

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