Govt can’t be seen as serious against curbing tobacco use if it keeps acting against anti-tobacco campaigners

By: | Published: December 5, 2018 2:10 AM

Govt can’t be seen as serious against curbing tobacco use if it keeps acting against anti-tobacco campaigners.

Tobacco-use in India occurs in a variety of forms—from smoking, to smokeless routes such as chewing tobacco and gutkha.

A non-profit that lobbies for tobacco-control will not be allowed to conduct its operations in New Delhi after failing to disclose funding-related information. Bloomberg Philanthropies-funded Socioeconomic and Educational Development Society (SEEDS) was interested in collaborating with the Delhi government for spreading tobacco-awareness, but was refused permission to do so under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA). Another Bloomberg-funded anti-tobacco organisation, Bengaluru’s Institute of Public Health, hasn’t been granted FCRA licence for two consecutive years—a home ministry 2016 note, as Reuters reported, flagged the ‘concern’ that the charity was “targeting” Indian tobacco business after it successfully lobbied for the introduction of bigger health warnings on cigarette packs. While the Centre has used the FCRA provisions to crack down on a spectrum of NGOs, its focus on anti-tobacco campaigners seems to be at odds with its prerogative of improving public health.

Tobacco-use in India occurs in a variety of forms—from smoking, to smokeless routes such as chewing tobacco and gutkha. In India, one in four adults and one in ten children (from ages 13-15) use smokeless tobacco and, in 2010 alone, some 368,127 deaths were reportedly caused due to smokeless tobacco usage, as per the WHO-sponsored Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS). Given the health ministry’s National Tobacco Control Programme focuses, amongst other things, on the spread of information and awareness on the ill-effects of tobacco use, cracking down on anti-tobacco campaigners is nothing short of betraying public health goals. The cost that tobacco imposes on public health should have been the Centre’s compass in this matter, not FCRA violations. With 28.6% of those aged 15 or above using tobacco products daily, and over one-third of non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke, as per the GATS data, the tobacco epidemic needs both intervention from the government as well as from charities. But if the Centre’s action, intended or unintended, continues to benefit tobacco companies, public health will keep suffering and action that defies reason, like the move against SEEDS, will continue to get taken.

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