Even as the home ministry trains its guns on organisations working in tobacco control – the latest on the list is Bloomberg Philanthropies – a senior doctor from the Tata Memorial Cancer Hospital has written to home minister Rajnath Singh against targeting of such organisations.
“I have been following the reports appearing in the media that intelligence wing of your ministry has labelled “tobacco control” as an “unhealthy” activity. As a doctor who has spent 30 years in Tata Memorial Hospital I can confidently say that there is nothing more serious and urgent than tobacco control. Nearly half of the cancers in India are attributable to tobacco. Since tobacco is more addictive than heroin, only 5 per cent Indians are able to quit tobacco that too after fatal illnesses. Twelve lakh people die annually due to tobacco leaving behind millions of bereaved and impoverished family members,” Dr K S Sharma director (academics) at India’s premier centre for cancer treatment wrote in the letter to Singh.
Starting with the Public Health Foundation of India in April this year and many other smaller organisations working in tobacco control, home ministry has been in the process of tightening the leash on NGOs who receive foreign funding on account of various financial and administrative licences. The immediate trigger for the letter though seems to be reports about Bloomberg Philanthropies being under the scanner for alleged violations.
Equating the tobacco toll to ten jumbo jets crashing every day, Dr Sharma said that the income from tobacco is only 17 per cent of the healthcare cost incurred for treatment of tobacco related illnesses., Dr Sharma cites the anti tobacco pledges taken by Singh and his deputy Kiren Rijiju to make his point about the importance of tobacco control.
“For a large and diverse country like India, effective tobacco control has always been a daunting task. India has witnessed a number of legal battles between the government and the tobacco industry apart from direct interference in policymaking or enforcement. NGOs and civil society have played a pivotal role in augmenting government’s effort to accelerate tobacco control. Recently, a leaked document of one of the multinational tobacco control cigarette company revealed a sinister plan to demolish India’s tobacco control effort by targetting activists and NGOs,” Dr Sharma wrote.
The last reference is from leaked documents of Philip Morris that gave out the company’s strategy to deal with anti-tobacco voices in India including the head of the under fire Public Health Foundation of India Dr K S Reddy. Dr Sharma added that while tobacco industry lobbies to enhance their business, public health activists are lobbying to save disease death and deprivation.
“I completely endorse steps taken to curb violation of any domestic laws, However, it would be unfortunate to malign ‘tobacco control’ as an ‘unhealthy’ activity,” he wrote