'40% of India's Health Problems Linked to Smoking'
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30 September 2008
New Delhi, India
By Rashmi Saksena
Out of the five million people the world over who have health problems because of tobacco use, one million are Indians
Sticking on to go with stringent measures to ban smoking in public places from October 2, India’s Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss said that 40 per cent of the country’s health problems are linked to smoking.
“According to a WHO survey, the size of the tobacco industry is Rs 35,000 crore (US $8 billion). Government as well as individual expenditure on preventing and treating tobacco–related health ailments as well as loss of production due to these diseases is Rs 36,000 crore”, Ramadoss said.
Out of the five million people the world over who have health problems because of tobacco use, one million are Indians, he pointed out.
Ramadoss denied suggestions that he was playing the moral policeman due to the Health Ministry’s banning smoking in public places from October 2.
“I am not trying to play a moral policeman or guardian. I am just doing my job. As Health Minister it is my responsibility to create awareness in the general population and to save every youth from everything that can harm their health”, he said.
“What happens in India impacts global figures. One sixth of humanity lives in India. As many as 600 million people here are below 30 years of age. We consider them as the high–risk group when it comes to tobacco, alcohol, drugs use, HIV infection and junk food consumption. It is the responsibility of the government to highlight the ill effects of these to the naive, illiterate and the youngsters”, Ramadoss contended.
“If I, as health minister, can’t do it, who can? We don’t want the young people to become a liability for our society”, he said.
Ramadoss also spoke of the resistance to his anti–smoking measures from the cigarette and bidi lobby.
“Surprisingly, also from politicians; the chief ministers of West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Madhya Pradesh wrote to lobby against these measures. More than 80 Members of Parliament (MPs) made a representation against the ban and pictorial warning”, the Health Minister said.
At the same time, he pointed out that India was obligated to imposing the measures because it was one of the 152 signatories to WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control 2004.
Ramadoss was also confident that smokers would be deterred by pictures of a skull or damaged lungs on a pack.
“Canada, Brazil and Singapore saw a three to five per cent drop in smokers after such a measure. In the UK, 45,000 people quit smoking after smoking in public places was banned”, the Health Minister said.
Besides, the effect of pictorial warning on packs will be reviewed by a Health Ministry Committee after one year, he added.
Ramadoss also contended that the government would draw huge political capital from the anti–smoking measures.