Multi-pronged plan to tackle tobacco menace in offing

PUNE: The state government is set take on tobacco menace, a major preventable cause of death and disease among adults worldwide, with a multi-pronged political and administrative strategy. The move comes against the backdrop that civic organisations and women groups in the state have joined hands to bring tobacco addiction to the political agenda ahead of the elections for the 27 zilla parishads and 10 municipal corporations scheduled for the next eight months.

In a high level meeting in Mumbai on Thursday, Satej Patil, minister of state for home and food and drugs administration initiated the amendments in the Shop Act, ordered introductions of new norms in FDA and most importantly, said his party (the Congress) will take a stand against tobacco.

“We have drafted a strategy to tackle alarming levels of smoking, and consumption of tobacco and gutkha in the state. The state has taken serious cognizance of rising level of tobacco consumption and smoking among schoolchildren and college youths. We will tackle this problem at administrative and political levels,” said Patil while speaking to TOI on Friday.

“Sale and consumption of tobacco is banned within 100 yards of premises of schools and colleges but the idea of tobacco-free campuses has remained only on paper. An alarming number of vendors are found selling cigarettes and other tobacco products outside schools and colleges across seven divisions of the state.”

The minister added: “We will now initiate legal steps to empower headmasters of schools and principals of colleges to take action against the shopkeepers and vendors who sale tobacco products. As of now, they have very limited rights in this regard. Also, we are amending the Shop Act which will put a pre-condition for any commercial establishments around schools and colleges not sale tobacco products, and if they breach the condition, their licences will be cancelled.”

Patil said the home department has already asked the urban development department to start procedure for this amendment. “As of now, there are no strong legal provisions against shopkeepers who sell tobacco products around school and college premises,” said Patil.

FDA commissioner Mahesh Zagade, who was present at the meeting, told TOI that the government will take steps to increase the number of food inspectors in the state to launch a sustainable campaign against tobacco. “As of now, the FDA has just 60 inspectors, which is a very small number considering the population of the state. Even police sub-inspectors are authorised to take action against those who sale tobacco in educational premises, but they are busy in their work. Hence, the FDA will increase its staff,” said Zagade.

Tobacco kills nearly 5.7 million people worldwide each year. According to the World Health Organization, smoking is the world’s leading cause of preventable death. It causes 1 in 10 deaths among adults worldwide. At the current rate, the death toll is projected to reach more than 8 million annually by 2030 and a total of up to one billion deaths in the 21st century.

Recently, NGOs and activists working in campaign against tobacco had demanded that the state handle the issue at political level.

“According to estimates, three crore people in the state will die prematurely in the coming decade if we do not impose a ban on tobacco today. There is nothing more urgent than this. We had taken this issue to the FDA minister and the state government,” said Pankaj Chaturvedi, associate professor, Tata memorial hospital.

“We will take a political stand on this issue. In fact, in my assembly constituency in Kolhapur South, I recently announced that the party will avoid nominating candidates in forthcoming local elections if they are tobacco addicts. We have to take stand on this issue as it is question of lives of thousands of people,” Patil said.

It is interesting to note that Patil’s home district, Kolhapur, has 1,500 hectares of land under tobacco cultivation, while neighbouring Sangli has 450 hectares. The annual tobacco production in the state is over 2,200 tonnes with some other parts of the state contributing to the production.

The stand taken by the Congress minister is likely to make the Nationalist Congress Party ministers in the state cabinet unhappy. The NCP, alliance partner of the Congress, has repeatedly gone on the defensive on the issue since one of their leaders has interests in the tobacco industry.

“It’s high time that the links of politicians and tobacco industry come to the fore. Let people understand who are the people involved in the business and who benefit from it. Anti-tobacco campaigns will succeed only when we track the flow of money involved in it, Vilas Baba Jawal, an anti-tobacco activist based in Satara, said.Killer Facts.

According to the Indian Council of Medical Research’s ‘Cancer associated with the use of tobacco’ report, nearly 44.4% of all cancers in men in Kolkata are because of tobacco, followed by Chennai (41.4%), Delhi (39.4%) and Mumbai (39.2%)

Besides the four metropolitan cities, the burden of tobacco associated cancers is acute in other cosmopolitan cities like Bangalore and Pune.

According to the Global Adult Tobacco Survey, 21% of Indian population is addicted to smokeless tobacco alone and another 5% smoke as well as use smokeless tobacco.

Around 75% of the 275 million Indians consume smokeless tobacco products

In India, more and more women are now taking to smoking. According to the Tobacco Atlas, the country ranks third in the top 20 female smoking populations across the globe. With around a crore female smokers in India, only the US with 2.3 crore female smokers and China with 1.3 crore female smokers, are worse off.

The World health Organization figures indicate that 33% adult Indian males and 18.4% adult Indian females use smokeless tobacco. Among the youth, 19% males and 8.3% females use some forms of tobacco.

According to the India Cancer Initiative report, more than 4,000 different chemicals have been found in tobacco and tobacco smoke. More than 60 of these chemicals are known to cause cancer (carcinogens).

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