Noting that use of tobacco imposes serious consequences on economy and society, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday said its control needs a combination of political and public health action and multi-sectoral policies will drive down its demand and supply.

In a televised address at ‘The International Conference on Public Health Priorities in the 21st Century: The Endgame for Tobacco’, Dr. Singh said the tobacco use had claimed about 100 million lives in 20th century. It is likely to claim a billion lives this century “unless it is stopped with a firm resolve”.

Stating that the country is committed to a vision of tobacco-free society, he said Parliament had enacted comprehensive legislations for tobacco control and touted the ban on sale and manufacture of gutka products in 33 states and UTs.

He also highlighted the ban on public smoking and ban on advertisement of tobacco products that help reduce tobacco intake.

Voicing concerns of tobacco farmers, Dr. Singh said, “As we act with conviction and commitment to eliminate tobacco as a threat to global health, we must also help those engaged in tobacco farming or manufacture to move towards economically viable alternate livelihoods.”

Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad said India faces a unique challenge in its response to the tobacco burden as myriad varieties of tobacco products, both smoking and smokeless, are widely used in the country.

He said as per the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (2009-10), one in four or about 275 million Indians use tobacco in some form or the other.

He noted that India has highest number of smokeless tobacco users in the world and also the highest number of oral cancer cases, 90 per cent of which are attributable to smokeless tobacco use.

WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said tobacco industry poses a big threat to tobacco campaign.

“Tobacco is one product that we certainly do not need...The answer to tobacco should be no,” she said.