WASHINGTON, D.C. – Dr. Pankaj Chaturvedi – a cancer surgeon based at Mumbai’s Tata Memorial Hospital – will be honored today with the Judy Wilkenfeld Award for International Tobacco Control Excellence in recognition of his innovative leadership in the fight to reduce tobacco use and tobacco-related disease in India. The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids will present Dr. Chaturvedi with the award at its annual awards gala in Washington, DC.
The Wilkenfeld Award was established in honor of Judy Wilkenfeld, the founder of Tobacco-Free Kids’ international program, who passed away in May 2007. The award recognizes international tobacco control advocates who contribute significantly to reducing tobacco use and inspire others to do the same in the spirit exemplified by Wilkenfeld.
Described by his colleagues as visionary, tireless and undaunted, Dr. Chaturvedi recognized that fundamental change wouldn’t happen until public figures had to confront the horrifying reality that he sees every day in his operating room. So Dr. Chaturvedi launched the Voice of Tobacco Victims campaign. This revolutionary campaign has mobilized tobacco victims and their doctors to confront India’s leaders and demand that they enact and implement strong tobacco control laws.
“Cancer specialists like me who work with tobacco victims are the constant witnesses of the crimes perpetrated by the tobacco industry,” said Dr. Chaturvedi. “I could no longer sit back and watch how helpless my patients and their families felt. I hoped these victims’ personal stories would rock the consciences of policy makers who must be convinced to take action.”
Dr. Chaturvedi began organizing tobacco victims – including many of his own patients – to help them share their stories and the impact tobacco use had on their lives. This grassroots effort created momentum and led to the formation of the advocacy group Voice of Tobacco Victims. Today, this group is one of the leading forces behind India’s growing tobacco control movement that has resulted in bans of smokeless tobacco products and increased taxes on tobacco.
Twenty-three of India’s 28 states and five of seven union territories have now banned gutka, a cheap and popular form of smokeless tobacco that attracts an estimated 65 million users in India. The movement has also contributed to tobacco tax increases in 20 states.
“Dr. Chaturvedi is a highly deserving recipient of the 2013 Judy Wilkenfeld Award. By mobilizing victims of tobacco and cancer doctors, he has transformed the tobacco control movement in India and contributed to historic progress that is saving lives,” said Matthew L. Myers, President of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “Dr. Chaturvedi has not only created a lasting legacy in India, but also provided a global example in combating tobacco use.”
Dr. Chaturvedi’s innovative leadership comes at a critical time for India, where tobacco kills more than one million people each year. The country is also home to 86 percent of the world’s oral cancer cases, which often result in life-long disfigurement and disability. Gutka bans now protect more than 975 million Indians, comprising approximately 80 percent of the country’s population. Additionally, 700 million Indian people live in states where tobacco taxes have been increased.
“I am honored to receive this award and accept it on behalf my colleagues, especially the victims of tobacco use, who are working to stop the tobacco epidemic in India,” said Dr. Chaturvedi. “We have seen great progress in India and hope to serve as an example for the global community. The world must hear the voice of tobacco’s many victims and know that progress in the global fight against tobacco is possible.”