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The government on Monday termed as “formidable” the challenge of tobacco control, saying there is a need for multi-sectoral action and integrated approaches to achieve health goals, especially when the country is facing the dual burden of infectious and non-communicable diseases. Union Health Minister J P Nadda said, at present, there are nearly 275 million tobacco users in the country and close to one million lives are lost every year due to its direct or indirect use, while the cost to treat tobacco-related diseases is whopping USD 22 billion.
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“The challenges faced by India in the realm of tobacco control are formidable, both in their number and in their complexity. However, despite our vast complexity, substantial investments for implementation of WHO-FCTC are slowly improving the situation,” he said inaugurating the 7th session of Conference of Parties (COP7) to World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control ((WHO-FCTC).
India, for the first time, is hosting the conference in which over 1500 delegates from all over the world are participating. He also listed “strong” steps taken by the government for regulating smokeless tobacco products while prohibiting its production, sale and storage. “We have, in coordination with the FCTC secretariat, set up the ‘Global Knowledge Hub for Smokeless Tobacco’ which will act as a global repository of knowledge related to smokeless tobacco,” he said.
The minister stressed that India has to go a long way in preventing millions of avoidable deaths resulting from the habit of tobacco use and tackle the challenges of emergence of new products and proliferation of existing products new areas, locally and internationally. Noting that India faces dual burden of infectious diseases like malaria and TB and emergent conditions like Zika and dengue, along with non-communicable diseases (NCD) like cancers, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, Nadda said all countries are gearing up and making efforts to strengthen their health systems to tackle these challenges.
“For this to happen, we need multi-sectoral action along with integrated approaches to health programmes and health goals,” he said. The minister said India is committed to strengthening NCD programmes and interventions and implementation of WHO-FCTC as an integral part of the post 2015 sustainable development goals. Nadda said the target of achieving relative reduction of tobacco use prevalence by 30 per cent is no longer a choice but a “necessity”.
Terming WHO-FCTC as India’s strongest tool to curb the emerging NCDs, he said the country cannot tackle them only by making more hospitals, more cancer institutes and producing more doctors and allied health professionals. He stressed the need for preventing the risk factors, tobacco being the biggest of them, “since today’s risk factors are tomorrow’s diseases.”
“The prevalence of tobacco use is still unacceptably high. Morbidity and mortality due to its use is also very high. There is a huge economic burden on the people and governments due to adverse health consequences of tobacco use. Certain parts of the world, including India, have a myriad of tobacco products. “We cannot do this alone. Along with national will and resources, we also need the strength of international collaboration to mitigate the rising burden of health, social and economic costs of tobacco,” Nadda said.
He termed 2016 as a landmark year for tobacco control as India, from April, has successfully implemented large pictorial health warnings occupying 85 per cent of principal display area on the packets of tobacco products. He said that the Supreme Court has directed all the states and Union Territories to file affidavits on compliance of the ban on manufacturing and sale of gutkha and pan masala with tobacco or nicotine.
He also referred to the recent development in which under the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015, an imposition of a penalty of seven years’ rigorous imprisonment and a fine of Rs one lakh, for selling tobacco products to minors has been given. “The government has also done pioneering work in regulating promotion of tobacco use through films and TV programmes.
“Our regulations require display of anti-tobacco health spots, disclaimer and messages, in films depicting tobacco use. We are one of the global leaders in this area, and since Indian films are watched across the globe, this messaging has great significance,” he said.