Sushma Swaraj raises the Anti Tobacco flag in Lok Sabha

Keeping her promise to Voice Of Tobacco Victims in her first interaction with them in Feb 2011, Sushma Swaraj raised the tobacco control issues in the Parliament in her speech in Lok Sabha on 15 March 2011. Her speech:

Madam Speaker, many thanks to you. With your kind permission I wish to raise an important matter in the Parliament regarding public health. Whenever introspection is done on the negative factors which have direct bearing on public health, the one which stands out is – usage of tobacco products.
Madam you know that tobacco is consumed in two ways – cigarette, bidi smoking and gutka, pan masala, zarda, khaini chewing. Madam Speaker, you will be surprised to know that eight to nine lakh people are dying annually due to tobacco products. This figure has been provided by the government and it is recent.
This disease not only kills, it damages a victim physically and materially. Patients bear on their bodies while the family suffers financially and mentally. When one sees any of our loved ones going through the pain of it, then family even prefer to sell their utensils for treatment. Families and families are devastated by it. I want to say that only to address this issue a report was tabled which mentions that 35% of the adult population of India is consuming tobacco. Therefore, it is must that the government forms a firm policy towards this issue. When I was the health minister in 2003, I was instrumental in passing a bill in this House which is known as COTPA in English.

It talked about ban on advertisements of tobacco products, no sale within 100 yards of an institution, no sale to a minor and pictorial warning on packaging of tobacco products. After 2003 in 2008 this government started doing something on warnings, but the Rules formed were only to be delayed till 2009. Rules said it has to be harsher every year. A stronger warning was again expected in 2010 but government postponed it by six months to 1/12/2010, then I wrote to the Health Minister and said that the proposed warning on tobacco products which you have chosen is appropriate but implementation is getting delayed.

Now as the government has decided that it will be implemented on 31st Dec, therefore I request you not to delay it but implement it this time, as it will prove to be an effective step towards improving public health. But I am disheartened to say that I got a response on 27th January after government decided to postpone it till 2011. Therefore, I wish to raise this issue with your kind permission.

A few days back, people suffering from usage of tobacco products, who have cancer of mouth, throat, tongue came to see me. These 8-9 lakh people are dying from cancer. On one hand government is spending 100 crores in 100 districts to prevent cancer but on the other hand 8-9 lakh people are dying only because we are not able to ban tobacco products or implement strong warnings. These victims are coming to Delhi on 17th and they want to sensitize the MP’s, but I am surprised to say that whenever I try to raise this issue then disturbances are created.

I want to say that if you will permit me I will bring the victims to you. Their scary faces, lack of confidence and no charm to live really tells their agony. I will make them meet you. Doctors of Tata Cancer hospital have initiated it and taking the victims to places. I want to say through you that it is imperative to ban tobacco products, but if not possible then please make sure that at least stronger pictorial warning, which shows a gory picture on the packaging of tobacco products, should be implemented.

I request you to please instruct the government that it is implemented on 31st Dec 2011 and not to delay it any further. This is my earnest request.

Ms Swaraj also expressed her solidarity to the issue through her tweets on the same day:

I raised the issue of adverse effect of tobacco on the health of our people in Lok Sabha today.
As many as 8 Lakh people are dying of cancer caused by tobacco products in India every year.
I stand for complete ban on all tobacco products.
If the Government is not ready to ban them immdtly, we must ensure tht pictorial warnings r more prominent and strict compliance is ensured


BACKGROUND: Voices of Tobacco Victims, Action Council Against Tobacco (ACT India), Healis-Sekhsaria Institute for Public Health, Salaam Bombay Foundation and Voluntary Health Association of India (VHAI), joined hands with Tata Memorial, Mumbai to organize a second Voice of Victims event in Delhi on 17 March 2011. This event was organised on the request of the leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha (lower house of Indian Parliament), Sushma Swaraj, who wanted the victims voices to reach the ears of her fellow parliamentarians. Ms Swaraj, personally invited all the parliamentarians and brought along over 40 of them to hear out the victims.

Testimonies from cancer victims ranged from their battles with oral cancer to living with half a jaw to talking through a voice box while those from their families were on the challenges in coping with the expenses of treatment to depleting resources to support household expenses, children’s education and daughters’ marriage. These experiences overwhelmed the audience and resulted in many wet eyes and choked throats. Both the victims and their families appealed to the audience to “let not what has happened to them, happen to any more people” and urged the government to take stringent actions against gutka and other forms of smokeless tobacco and expressed their solidarity in the fight to save others from the menace of gutka.

The highlight of this event was the presentation of a Charter of the demands by the victims to Ms Sushma Swaraj and other parliamentarians that called for banning gutka, increasing taxation on all tobacco products and implementing policies and programmes that reflect the demands of the victims of chewing tobacco. The victims also got the all the parliamentarians at the event, to sign a pledge assuring their commitment to support all tobacco control initiatives for a healthier India.

The events were well attended and covered by the media and generated extensive coverage in the print and TV channels

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