Is Tobacco A Necessary Consumer Product?

There were two programmes in Mysore city on Saturday the 3rd September 2011, paradoxically on the same subject “Tobacco”, both commencing at 10 am but a few kilometers apart; As Convenor of Anti-Tobacco Forum and a Social Activist, Mysore Grahakara Parishath, I was at a loss to decide - whether to attend the glittering programme sponsored by theTobacco Institute of India to honor Tobacco farmers for their continued patronage, adoption of best practices to grow tobacco or the other was a holistic government programme organised by the District Health authorities, Chaired by the Deputy Commissioner and District Health officer, sponsored through Swamy Vivekananda Youth Movement and HRIDAY, an anti-tobacco NGO, for creating awareness about the various rules, regulations and enabling provisions that empower the officials to punish violators of Tobacco Control Act enacted by the Parliament for implementation at grassroots level. About 50 officers/officials from Departments of Health, Education, Police, NGOs etc. participated but it was a poor response by all standards of government functions.

The TII programme was attended by two MPs, a number of MLAs/MLC, and Top officials of the Tobacco Board and more than 600 Tobacco farmers from all over India. Paradoxically, the policy makers who are the guardians and watch dogs of public health were found sympathising with the woes of legal/illegal tobacco growing farmers and were ready to even take their grivances to the Parliament/Legislature for redressal. Will not such promises and sympathies encourage and tempt other farmers switch to growing the Killer weed Tobacco by giving up their religious and traditional path of cultivation of staple foods? Are not they also responsible for helping Nation’s honor for adhering to the international protocol under the UN/WHO sponsored FCTC agreement (Framework Convention on Tobacco Control) that has bound India with the task of reducing tobacco in the community by 80 per cent by the year 2020?

It is sad that the political bigwigs/policy makers of our country were more interested in protecting their image/popularity through oral appeasement of a miniscule section of tobacco farmers and other workers of the industry, who are responsible for causing nearly 50 per cent of deaths due to ill effects on human health, directly attributable to consumption of tobacco products in India; that tobacco is a soil depleter, environmentally hazardous crop, is responsible for destruction of natural forest resources and requires thousands of tons of wood every season, for its curing in barns. Paradoxically, officials of the Tobacco Control Board were also found responding favorably to the farmers woes and have given a go by to their elementary responsibility of advising the Tobacco farmers to switch to inter-crop pattern and create a zero tobacco ground, over a period of time and help Govt.of India in honoring FCTC protocol agreement.

The only saving grace was that they appealed to the farmers to ‘adhere to the crop size’, as if it is a golden rule whereas in reality, being followed more in the breach for decades and the Government is procuring legally/illegally grown tobacco by license/non-license holders.

Question that arises here is: Why Government is adopting double standards in its approach to contain the growth, the killer weed Tobacco?

Another paradox is that non-smokers are being made to pay for providing medical facility for curing the cancer/diseases of smokers who have invited and contracted incurable health problems on their volition, despite knowing the hazards of consuming tobacco products. Curing cancer requires costly treatments, whereas, even minimum health care infrastructure for non-smokers and common man is not available. This is a penalty for being a non-smoker. Further, smokers are also drivers of environmental degradation and they are spewing tons of CO2 and other green house gases that is resulting in climate change, global warming with impacts on agriculture etc. They are polluting the atmosphere with their right to smoke, whereas, the non-smoker is denied his right to live in a clean atmosphere. Tobacco has earned the dubious distinction of a certified killer produce. “What we sow we reap” and tobacco has earned more negative points and like Polio, Tobacco also must be eradicated from the face of the earth.

All these problems are directly attributable to uncontrolled availability of various kinds of the killer tobacco products in every nook and corner of our country. This is also due to failure of Government machinery
(1) to effectively implement various Acts, Rules, etc., that empower them to initiate on the spot punitive measures against the violators,
(2) to enforce strictly the prescribed crop size for cultivation of killer tobacco,
(3) refuse procurement of extra quantity of legally and/or illegally grown tobacco;
(4) increase the prices of all tobacco products so that they become prohibitively costly and it acts as a deterrent for smokers (4) collect fines levied on illegal quantity and to increase the fine by 50 per cent annually;
(5) reduce the number of license holders annually;
(6) increase the license fee for renewal at least by 50 per cent annually;
(7) stop extending government’s support price during seasonal procurement,
(8) make the tobacco growers buy their inputs like quality seeds, fertilisers, insecticides etc. at higher rates and divert supply of subsidised inputs to farmers engaged in cultivating staple food products who are languishing for want of these timely inputs and are resorting to suicide.

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