NCP leader Supriya Sule discusses government’s attitude to tobacco
How do you view MP Dilip Gandhi’s remark that there’s not enough Indian data to link tobacco to cancer?
It is shocking. Mr Gandhi is a nice person; it’s unfortunate that he made a statement like that. This is not rocket science, you know. If there is no data, why have we banned gutkha? Why have we banned smoking in public places? Why do smoking scenes come with a warning? Why do we react if people smoke when there is a pregnant woman in the room? It is commonsense… I am trying to contact him (Gandhi).
You met the health minister some time ago. Did you get a sense that larger pictorial warnings would be postponed?
Not at all. He was very, very encouraging. I also met the Prime Minister. See, you have to understand that I am not for banning anything. I understand that tobacco farmers have an issue, there are thousands of women that work in the bidi rolling units, they have a genuine issue. We need to work on those things, maybe look at changing the crop patterns over the long term. Neither am I saying that pictorial warning will solve everything. Things will not happen overnight.
Tell us about your meeting with the Prime Minister.
He was very supportive. The first thing he said was, “This is a dirty habit, we have to stop it.” I plan to write to him and to the health minister. We need more dialogue with the government, keep talking to them to convince them about this.
The committee looked at thousands of representations from the tobacco lobby but did not talk to experts or activists. What do you make of it?
It does not make any sense to me. You really have to ask them. There are so many oncologists working in the field. I am the daughter of a cancer survivor, have lost a family member, R R Patil, to cancer. He was 57 years old. There is always the Churchill argument that he smoked, drank and lived until 90. For every Winston Churchill, there are hundreds of R R Patils who had a toothache one day and it was all over.
You are very vocal against tobacco. Is that your view personally or that of your party?
How does it matter? These are issues that are beyond the political divide. Take female foeticide. Why should there be any difference of opinion among parties about it? Why would my party think differently on tobacco?
Is India doing enough on other tobacco-related issues?
We have to try different methodologies for de-addiction. The basic need is to tell the people what it does. People will smoke, but at least they should do so knowing the consequences. Children need to know. I would be devastated if my children smoked.