‘Government should raise the tax on tobacco products'
It is unusual for any public authority, let alone a Minister of Medical Education, to speak out against opening more hospitals. But that is what S.A. Ramdas did at the programme organised by the Consortium for Tobacco-Free Karnataka (CTFK) at the Bangalore Medical College and Research Institute on Wednesday, on the eve of World No Tobacco Day.
“Prevention is what is required, especially for dangerous diseases like cancer. So, we should be working against the use of tobacco rather than open hospitals to treat diseases arising out of its usage,” he said.
Given that the World Health Organisation's (WHO) theme for the World No Tobacco Day this year is ‘Tobacco Industry Interference', he said government policies were at the moment being influenced only by the tobacco industry, and it was up to civil society to seek a ban on tobacco and pressure the government in favour of public health.
Promising to raise the issue in the next Assembly session, he said as Karnataka was the second-largest producer of tobacco in the country, the government should at the very least raise the tax on tobacco products. “We raised VAT on beedis by 5 per cent, but had to roll it back immediately due to industry pressure.”
Oncologist U.S. Vishal Rao said the conference was “to assure that the medical fraternity has come together in the fight against tobacco.Dignitaries from cardiac institutes, neurocentres and community health centres, and students from 140 colleges are participating and it is open to the general public too. We have also set up a de-addiction booth, which we hope will see some registrations.”
Upendra Bhojani, a research scholar from the Institute of Public Health, said that there was a conflict within the government itself on tobacco-related work. “There is a Tobacco Board aiding the industry, while there is the Health Ministry trying to reduce tobacco usage,” he said.
Explaining why tobacco cultivators and industry stakeholders were not part of the conference, he said the WHO stand was that the industry should not be involved in tobacco control initiatives. “They would end up moulding the discussions in a certain way which may not achieve our goals,” he said. “The UN Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, to which India is a signatory, clearly specifies that the industry is not an equal stakeholder.”
As two cancer survivors came up on stage to narrate their suffering because of tobacco, the CTFK urged the government to ban gutka and all other tobacco-related products. It presented a global Adult Tobacco Survey that revealed chewing tobacco was a more common activity than smoking. The survey showed that nearly 23 per cent of males and 16 per cent of females chewed tobacco products in Karnataka, while 40 per cent of males and 16 per cent of females formed the total users of tobacco, implying that all female tobacco users used chewable products.