The Executive Director of the Tobacco Board of India cancelled her appearance at the last minute at a U.S. conference aimed at promoting tobacco, avoiding embarrassment to the government because it would have violated not only Indian laws but also World Health Organization (WHO) rules.
The issue arose when anti-tobacco and public heath activists brought to the notice of the Health Ministry that an official of the Tobacco Board was going to take part in the conference. They said this was in contravention of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) and the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Act, 2003.
Sunitha Kolaventy, Executive Director of the Tobacco Board under the Commerce Ministry, was to speak on Tuesday at the Global Tobacco and Nicotine Forum 2019 in Washington, DC. However, Health Secretary Preeti Sudan told The Hindu on Saturday that Ms. Kolaventy would not attend the event. As on Sunday, the event website had her listed as a speaker.
Under Article 5.3 of the WHO FCTC, of which India is a signatory, “in setting and implementing their public health policies with respect to tobacco control, Parties shall act to protect these policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry in accordance with national law.”
The activists argued that the Global Tobacco and Nicotine Forum was an annual tobacco industry-supported and -organised event aimed at the promotion of the tobacco industry globally and as such, Ms. Kolaventy’s appearance as a speaker at the event would be in violation of the WHO FCTC.
This is not the first time the Tobacco Board has been prevented from associating itself with the Global Tobacco and Nicotine Forum. The 2010 edition was to have been held in Bangalore with the sponsorship of the Tobacco Board. In response to a public interest litigation petition by the Institute of Public Health, the Karnataka High Court ordered the Board to desist from sponsoring the event as it violated the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Act.
The law says: “No person shall take part in any advertisement which directly or indirectly suggests or promotes the use or consumption of cigarettes or any other tobacco products.”
The government has run into criticism for helping the tobacco and cigarette industry by banning e-cigarettes, which were emerging as a safer alternative to conventional cigarettes.