Minister hopes court will help stub out the habit

Mumbai: Union Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss who has been battling hard against the use of tobacco on Monday expressed hope that the judiciary would be more proactive in the government’s fight against tobacco.

“It is an uphill task and we have a long way to go,” he said, addressing corporate leaders and delegates who have come from over 60 national and multinational organisations to attend a symposium on promoting smoke-free workplaces in India at the five-day 14th World Conference on Tobacco or Health being held here.

He was referring to a case where the Supreme Court is expected to pass an order on a government law banning nicotine in food products – a measure which will affect the multi-million rupee gutkha (a synthetic tobacco powder) industry.

“Gutkha is destroying Indian society since young school children have become addicted to it,” he said. The minister also said that Health and Family Welfare Ministry planned to come up with a legislation which would prohibit companies from applying for government tenders if they do not have anti-tobacco measures in their workplaces.

He revealed how a government decision to carry pictorial warning against tobacco was postponed a number of times though this would come into effect from May 31 onwards.

“The cigarette industry instigated the bidi manufacturers and workers who came on the streets to protest. Many MPs who survive on these voters as well as three chief ministers asked me whether these pictorial warnings were necessary. It was a depressing two and a half years for us.”

He hopes the court will give a positive order on this issue. “The government would do an impact study after a year and accordingly, the images would be made more glaring to stop people from using tobacco products.” Nearly a million people, out of the world’s five million, die in India due to tobacco-related diseases every year. Corporate leaders are now warming up to the idea of smoke-free workplaces across the country since a healthier workforce would mean improved productivity and lesser absenteeism.

Cigarettes form only 15 per cent of tobacco consumption in India with bidis (crushed tobacco hand-wrapped in dry tendu leaf), chewing of tobacco and varieties of pan masala (tobacco concoctions) being consumed by the population.

Since all forms of tobacco consumption is injurious to health, Ramadoss has strongly advised the Maharashtra government to shut down all hookah bars in Mumbai since they are all illegal.

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