Deepak Kumar, a lifelong smoker of ITC’s Wills cigarettes, and Mohammad Azazur Rehman, who has smoked Pehelwan chaap bidis all his life, are now appreciating the brand choices and lifestyle choices that have made their lives so sweet! Both Deepak and Azazur come to Tata Memorial Hospital for quarterly checkups — a lifelong reminder that one must reluctantly live with the lifestyle choices that one willingly makes early in life! And so the duo use ITC Classmate Notebooks & ITC Classmate Stationery to track their dates at Tata Memorial. It’s a good idea to write ones wills early while smoking Wills, jokes Deepak, a former commissioner of Central Excise! Deepak now wears a fashionable scarf to cover that designer hole in the throat (it’s the Wills Classic look!), and he plans to walk the ramp at Wills Fashion Week 2013 as a model to show off his exquisite range of designer scarves & exclusive fashion accessories! He hopes to open a store sponsored by ITC Ltd, naturally. ITC Wills Lifestyle Stores, Organizers of Wills Fashion Week, hope you are listening? Mr Y C Deveshwar, Sir, surely, you will not disappoint an ardent fan of ITC brands, who makes it a point to stay at ITC Hotels whenever he travels?
Mohammed Azazur Rahman, an electrical engineer from Basti district of Uttar Pradesh, was forced to come to Mumbai’s Tata Memorial Hospital last month. It turned out that he was a great fan of Pehelwan brand of bidis all his life, smoking 2-3 packs per day. Today, his disfiguring oral cancer is painfully evident, but he still can’t kick the habit! He smokes 4-5 Pehelwan bidis every day.
3 October 2012, Mumbai: Dear Sir, In the past few days, readers of the Mumbai and Delhi editions of your esteemed dailies have been targeted by a front-page advertisement issued by the gutka manufacturers’ lobby. I would like to caution you that not only is this ad full of lies and half-truths, but also, it constitutes an in-your-face contempt of court. Through this ad, the gutka industry seeks to raise an outcry against the judgments of six High Courts, including Bombay and Delhi High Court, that have ruled in favour of the ban. Sir, are you aware that by publishing this ad, you are unwittingly made into accomplices in openly defying the judiciary? Have you considered the possibility of Contempt of Court notices being issued against your newspapers and you personally?
Let me introduce myself. I am Mrs Sumitra Pednekar, wife of Maharashtra’s former home and labour minister Satish Pednekar, who died of oral cancer last year. My husband’s illness happened because of his addiction to mawa, a mix of chewing tobacco and pan masala. In his last few months, my husband could not swallow even watery dal-khichdi. My daughters and I are still struggling to come to terms with the scars left by his extended illness and tragic demise.
This ad that you have been publishing appears to be a last-gasp effort of this industry to get popular support for an unjust and inhuman industry that has made many victims like myself. Below is our rebuttal to the untruths that the ad seeks to spread. We urge you to carry this rebuttal prominently to counter the misinformation spread by the ad:
1) This ad claims, “14 states in India believe that cigarettes are healthy”. This is patently untrue because cigarettes sold everywhere are forced to prominently carry a statutory pictorial warning that states that cigarette smoking is injurious to health. There is no state in India where cigarettes are considered “healthy”.
2) The ad argues, “Gutka with lesser tobacco is banned in 14 states, while cigarettes which have more tobacco are not.” This is a deeply flawed argument. Gutka and cigarette are governed by two different legislations. Gutka is a food product containing tobacco, and cigarettes are not a food product. The sale of gutka has been banned under the Food Safety Act 2006 and Food Safety Regulations, whereas cigarettes and bidis are not governed under this act, as they are not food products. They are governed by the provisions of COTPA (Cigarettes & Other Tobacco Products Act). The gutka manufacturers have tried hard to have it classified as “not a food”, but unfortunately for them, gutka was defined as food item by Supreme Court in the Ghodavat Pan Masala case. The license for manufacturing gutka is issued by the food ministry. So, the gutka manufacturers are trying to mislead people by equating gutka (a toxic food product) with cigarette/bidi (a harmful tobacco product that cannot be eaten). Please note, there is no ban on tobacco, which is simply an agricultural crop and a naturally occurring plant material. However, there is a ban on adding this plant material into any food meant for human ingestion, because it is toxic. Food Safety Act bans adding known toxins in food.
3) The ad claims, “One pouch of gutka contains 0.2 g of tobacco, compared to 0.63 g in one cigarette”. This statistic tries to imply that less tobacco is safer. That is incorrect. There is no safe level of tobacco consumption, and it is harmful in any quantity and in all forms. This fact is well recognized by Govt. of India, which is doing a lot to minimize its consumption in all forms.
4) The ad claims, “A cigarette has 4000 chemicals, as opposed to 3000 in smokeless tobacco”. This is a meaningless statistic thrown at half-literate people to mislead them. It has no scientific basis whatsoever.
5) The ad claims, “Unlike cigarettes, gutka is not harmful for others around you”. This is an effort to obfuscate the issue of gutka ban with the second-hand smoking issue. It implies that consuming gutka is a “victimless crime”, and that the gutka-eater is not harming anyone in society. That is untrue. When a person consuming gutka suffers from oral cancer, his entire family is the sufferer; who should know this better than I? In many cases, the cheeks, upper and lower jaws of the gutka consumer are removed. Such a person is unable to eat or speak normally, and must overcome many hurdles to function as in society and in any occupation. The spouse of the gutka addict is a victim of his consumption in economic and social terms. Every gutka addicts who contracts oral cancer creates 4-5 scarred victims created in his family, for whom life will never be the same again. There is no complete cure. Even after surgery and treatment, such people and their families live in the lifelong fear of recurrence. Tata Memorial Hospital is full of such victims, queuing up for treatment and post-surgical checkups.
6) Lastly, the ad claims, “Thousands of small gutka manufacturers are being shut down by the powerful lobby of cigarette companies”. The effort here is to paint the powerful and influential gutka lobby in the colours of a victim. It is most emphatically not a victim, but the perpetrator of a crime against humanity that is at long last being curbed. The in states gutka bans are not happening because of the cigarette lobby, but because of a central legislation, namely the Food Safety Act 2006, which is simply being implemented by the states. It is happening because the government is simply doing its mandated duty to improve the nutritional status of its citizens, by preventing adulterants and toxic substances from being added into foods.
May we once again remind you that the ban on gutka has been imposed after the High Courts of Rajasthan, MP, Bihar, Kerala, Bombay and Delhi applied their mind to the gutka manufacturers’ pleas for stay on the ban, and rejected their pleas? By challenging this ban through advertisements, the gutka manufacturers are treading on extremely dangerous territory… and so are you. In the interest of your readers, and in your own interest, we would urge you not to publish such ads.
With Best Wishes,
Sumitra Satish Pednekar
Voluntary Health Association in collaboration with Voice of Tobacco Victims organized an MLA sensitization program in Srinagar on July 18, 2012. Hon’ble Chief Minister and the Speaker chaired the session and there were 40 legislative members. Dr Pankaj Chaturvedi, Oncologist from Tata Memorial Hospital, conducted a VoTV event. Seema Gupta from Voluntary Health Association of India gave presentation on issues of tobacco in J&K. The CM and Speaker assured support for tobacco control and to save lives in J&K.
In Bihar, DSP rank officers have been nominated in districts as nodal officers to enforce the Cigarettes & Other Tobacco Products Act (COTPA). Cancer Awareness Society (CAS) and Bihar Police Department with Voice of Tobacco Victims organized a state-level workshop at Hotel Chanakya in Patna, Bihar on 17th July 2012.
This was attended by :
- Amarjeet Sinha (Principal Secretary – Health)
- Abhyanand (DGP – Bihar)
- 45 DSP rank police officers from across the state of Bihar
- Amal Pushp (Director – Tobacco Control, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, New Delhi)
- Advocate Ranjit Singh (MoHFW),
- CAS members: Sh.TP Sinha (Former DGP – Bihar), Sh. Arvind Singh (Ex- DM), Sh. Parvez Khan (IGIMS)
- Dr. Abdul Hai (Sr. Oncologist, Hai Research Center)
- Sanjay Seth (India – Program Director, Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids)
- Ashima Sarin (Project Director, Voice of Tobacco Victims), VoTV members (cancer patients) present were: Dilip Kumar, Girdhari Aggarwal, HR Kedia, Santosh Kumar, Bindeshwar Prasad.
The workshop, inaugurated by DGP Abhyanand, sensitized the police officers to the dangers of tobacco addiction and the urgent need to enforce punitive measures of COTPA Sections 4 and 6.
Dr. VP Singh did a VoTV in the workshop. Cancer survivors told how disastrous tobacco addiction has been for them and their families. The police officers were moved hearing the sufferings of the patients.
Sh. Amal Pushp, MoHFW, hailed the initiative of Bihar Police and said that this is probably the first workshop of its kind, for controlling the menace of tobacco in the state.
Sh. Amarjeet Sinha said that students should spread the message far and wide. A monthly fest would be organized 73 thousand primary schools of the country to make children aware of the health hazards of tobacco.
VoTV and Voluntary Health Association of India (VHAI), New Delhi and Uttar Pradesh Voluntary Health Association organized a press conference on 11th July, 2012 at UP Press Club, Lucknow. The conference was organized to appreciate the Uttar Pradesh government for sharply hiking taxes on tobacco products. Health Minister Ahmad Hasan was present.
Ashima Sarin (Project Director, VoTV), VoTV members (Dilip Kumar, Sunil Handa), Binoy Mathew (Media Officer, VHAI), JP Sharma (Executive Director, UPVHA), Dr Sudhir Kapoor (IDA), Prof. Ramakant thanked the Government, Akhilesh Yadav, Jawed Usmani, Ahmad Hasan and others, for raising taxes on tobacco products in Uttar Pradesh.
On 1st June 2012, GLOBAL CANCER TRUST (GCT), headed by Dr Vikash Agarwal, observed World No Tobacco Day with the Kolkata Police at their auditorium. More than 200 police personnel attended the awareness program. An oral cancer patient, who was a teacher, became emotional as he shared his painful story of cancer, caused by his habit of chewing tobacco. He urged everybody to build a tobacco free society.
The World No Tobacco Day was conducted on May 30 at Bangalore Medical College and Research Center which is also the district anti tobacco cell. The program was attended by key dignitaries including Medical education minister, Health secretary, Home secretary, Joint director food and public health, BBMP commissioner for health, WHO consultant for state, Nodal officer anti tobacco cell, IMA secretary and Dental council of India members.
On World No Tobacco Day, CNN-IBN aired the news about an RTI query filed by Voice of Tobacco Victims, which revealed that public sector concerns like Life Insurance Corporation (LIC) and Unit Trust of India (UTI Limited) had a large chunk of shareholding in cigarette companies like ITC and VST. This violates an international treaty India signed in 2004.
Anti-tobacco groups are questioning the nexus between the government and tobacco majors.Government-owned Life Insurance Corporation of India has invested in nearly a hundred crore shares (99,58,91,658 shares) of ITC Ltd, VST Industries and DS Group. Cigarettes and Tobacco products, which kill lakhs of Indians every year, are the main source of revenue for these companies.
As Maharashtra struggles to curb the sale of tobacco products near schools, surveys done by the NGO Salaam Bombay Foundation throw up some disturbing statistics. 1 in 4 children at Mumbai’s municipal schools use some form of tobacco. Another survey of 200 schools, finds 61 per cent of them have tobacco shops within 100 yards of their premises. This is despite the BMC banning such sales two months ago and is in clear violation of the law. According to the latest Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS), 5 million children in India under the age of 18 use some form of tobacco products.
Dr Pankaj Chaturvedi, Oncology Surgeon, Tata Memorial Hospital, says, “It is known that tobacco addiction starts at the age of 12 years and 80 per cent of the pan shops in India are near schools and colleges as they know if they can influence children then they would be catering to a huge market.”