Cowboys and India

Posted 15th April 2015 by Dave Cross
The second most populated country in the world loses over 1,000,000 people each year to smoking-related diseases. In fact, tobacco is predicted to count for 13% of its death by 2020 from the population numbering 1.2 billion people. There are currently 275 million tobacco smokers; of these 14% are children under the age of 15 – that’s 38.5 million children. Surely such horrific numbers ought to compel India to embrace vaping?

If anyone is looking for an example of joined-up thinking and coherent policy regarding tobacco and tobacco-related products then this is not the article for you. India is currently fighting with a miss-mash of conflicted interests, science denialism and self-interests.

This is, of course, only to be expected when one of the members of the parliamentary panel tasked with tobacco policy happens to have made his obscene wealth from the sale of beedi cigarettes. BJP MP Shyama Charan Gupta has riled many with his stiff opposition to health warnings on tobacco products, and last week decided to not bother with the committee meeting.

The target date of introducing bigger warnings on packs of cigarettes has been missed, not least due to the efforts of BJP MP Dilip Kumar Gandhi. Ghandi, the chairperson of the committee, who has made the extraordinary claim that there is no link between smoking and cancer. It was a move that spurred Dr Monika Arora from Public Health Foundation of India to respond: “Tobacco is the attributable cause of 50% cancers in India and majority of lung or heart diseases.”

So, while protecting their income from beedi sales, they have focussed on two other targets.

Firstly, schools and their staff are now under threat of punitive sanctions including fines and imprisonment if children are subjected to tobacco company logos. Students are to be banned from any event sponsored by any tobacco firm or its subsidiary. This because “youngsters are found to be more addicted to drugs and it all starts with tobacco consumption.”

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Schools are also about to receive new textbooks containing an additional chapter on the serious health effects of tobacco consumption. The health ministry will list out measures that can be included in this chapter in the form of cartoons and comic strips, chapters and pictures.

And while cigarettes are being sold and children have new textbooks the corrupt politicians are hiding behind the World Health Organisation (WHO) when it comes to ecigs. No doubt this situation would be different if a couple of MPs owned a couple of major vaping brands.

"There is a growing market in India, with companies like ITC announcing a foray into the e-cigarette manufacture. Along with the traditional cigarette manufacturing, there is a parallel industry of e-cigarette like devices growing in India, which needs to be regulated,” said Dr. Vinayak Mohan Prasad, cautioning India behalf of the WHO.

Referring to vaping’s “adverse affects on health”, a spokesperson for the government previously announced: “it has been decided to completely ban this menace by bringing strong legislation.”

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 Dave Cross
Article by Dave Cross
Freelance writer, physicist, karateka, dog walker
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