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  Asia-Pacific
Enforce Existing Tobacco Control Legislations in India: WHO Awardee 2008
By Bobby Ramakant
Asia Correspondent
Enforce Existing Tobacco Control Legislations in India:
WHO Awardee 2008

Despite of five years having passed by since the globally acclaimed national tobacco control parliamentary Act (The Cigarette and other tobacco products Act 2003) was formed, and more than four years since India had ratified the FCTC (Framework Convention on Tobacco Control) - which happens to be the world's first global public health and corporate accountability treaty — the urgent need to contain tobacco-related diseases, morbidity and mortality, remains as compelling.

Tobacco companies have been aggressively promoting their brands and protecting markets, employing lifestyle and glamour imagery and surrogate advertising unabashedly.

Tobacco brand placement in films have been under scanner and India's Union Health Minister Dr. Ambumani Ramadoss had reaffirmed recently in an interview that "One of the easiest ways to significantly bring down number of children and youth who get initiated to tobacco use in India, without any budgetary allocation for this public health exercise, is to remove depiction of tobacco use in films and TV."

The impact of these public welfare policy measures is yet to be seen on curtailing tobacco consumption or tobacco related health hazards. Balance sheets of tobacco companies on the other hand have shown remarkable increase in their markets. The Indian Tobacco Company (ITC)'s 2008 quarter report showed an increase of 12% profit margin.

Like other public interest measures, Governments alone cannot bring in the difference unless people are active stakeholders in implementation. The information about tobacco hazards and existing tobacco control policies still remains confined to tobacco control professionals and there is a pressing need to transmit this information about public health policies our governments have agreed to adapt at International forums far and wide.

Tobacco kills almost five million people each year. If current trends continue, it is projected to kill 10 million people a year by 2030, with 70% of those deaths occurring in developing countries. Tobacco also takes an enormous toll in health care costs, lost productivity, and of course the intangible costs of the pain and suffering inflicted upon smokers, passive smokers and their families.

The tobacco epidemic is an international problem. Developing countries are set to bear the brunt of the problem in the future. At present there are about 5.4 million deaths a year worldwide due to tobacco-related disease, with the balance split approximately between developed and developing countries.

The tobacco industry is a global industry. Faced with increased regulation and greater awareness of the health risks of smoking in Europe and North America, the tobacco multinationals are stepping up their activities in developing countries like India in search of new markets.

A number of aspects of the tobacco problem are particularly trans-boundary in nature and can only be dealt with effectively by international action, including:
- Tobacco industry marketing campaigns executed across a number of different countries simultaneously, including through satellite television;
- Smuggling of cigarettes, often coordinated by the tobacco industry on an international level, involving operations in numerous countries.

How effective these tobacco control policies will be in reversing the tobacco epidemic, shall be determined by how committed not only the governments are but also how meaningfully are people engaged, in implementing the obligations contained in the FCTC or national legislations.



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Bobby Ramakant, who serves as The Seoul Times' Asia correspondent, is a member of NATT, Network for Accountability of Tobacco Transnationals, and edits Weekly MONiTOR series, reporting violations of tobacco control policies as a senior public health and development journalist. He writes for newspapers in 11 countries. He is the recepient of World Health Organization (WHO)'s Award for the year 2008. He can be reached at bobbyramakant@yahoo.com)

 

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