30-yr-old tobacco user, who has lost a major portion of his tongue to cancer after undergoing three surgeries, issues fervent plea not to encourage tobacco firms by investing in them. “Why and how do our government-owned companies invest so hugely in Indian Tobacco Company?” is what Tali Kamsi asks in gestures, lying on the hospital cot. After the third surgery, which has left a major part of his tongue removed, his speech is quite incoherent and his mother, Kengam, played interpreter when Mumbai Mirror met Tali. He started smoking when he was 22 years old, has tongue cancer. He has already undergone two surgeries at a hospital in the capital of his home state, Itanagar.
Should government-run companies invest in tobacco firms? This is the question that Voices of Tobacco Victims (VoTV), a campaign for cancer patients, has raised after its recent query under the RTI Act revealed that the Life Insurance Corporation of India has invested up to Rs 3,500 crore in various tobacco companies.
“It’s the greatest irony that the government spends Rs 10,000 crore on treatment of tobacco-related illnesses while investing Rs 3,500 crore in the industry causing it,” said Dr Pankaj Chaturvedi, a senior cancer surgeon with Tata Memorial Hospital who is associated with VoTV.
On Thursday, VoTV circulated copies of the RTI reply from LIC dated July 15. LIC has mentioned that it has equity shares in tobacco major ITC Ltd worth Rs 3,561 crore, debentures worth Rs 50 crore in Dharampal Satyapal Ltd and equity shares in VST worth Rs 15.65 lakh.
VoTV wants the government to take an anti-tobacco stance especially since it was among the first to ratify the global anti-tobacco framework. The framework was worked out by the UN after it was medically established that tobacco products are harmful and could cause cancer.
“Voice Of Tobacco Victims” is the brainchild of Dr Pankaj Chaturvedi, Associate Professor, Tata Memorial Hospital. He always wondered how a cancer causing substance, that kills millions every year, be sold so freely and advertized so brazenly. He was disturbed by the sight of ever increasing number of young cancer patients visiting his cancer clinic every day. Most of them, owing to advanced stage, died within 5 years of diagnosis. Those who survived, lived with severe depression, dejection, disfigurement and disability.
Rather than being a silent witness of a crime and wait for someone else to find a solution, he decided to spend some time in tobacco control activities. He planned to make tobacco victims as the public face of the war on tobacco. He decided to help tobacco victims get justice and help them raise a war cry against the very industry that they patronized for decades. He envisaged that no one can withstand this formidable force that is driven by pure passion. His idea was supported by Dr PC Gupta and Dr Surendra Shastri of Action Council Against Tobacco India. Finally, this experiment began on 31st May, 2008 with a small group of 10 cancer patients of Dr Pankaj Chaturvedi. The experiment proved immensely successful… these cancer patients shocked the media and audience with their grit and determination. They have only one aim for their countrymen “ This is what tobacco did to us, we want to save others!”
1. The first meeting of VoTV happened on 31st May 2009 in Tata Memorial Hospital. The impact of this meeting could be gauged from the fact that it was covered by 36 news papers including the most popular one. For more details
2. Inspired after the meeting, one of the members filed a compensation Suit against formidable Indian Tobacco Company (originally BAT) for 10 million rupees. He is a larynx cancer patient whom I treated 2 years back. Despite ITC’s powerful legal team, the case did not get rejected. Several other members have filed for compensation in local consumer redressal forums all over the country.
Mumbai Mirror Link 01
3. In September, 2010 during National Congress on Tobacco & Health at Mumbai, the VoTV members cornered the Health Minister and presented them a Charter of Demands and a huge canvas with more than thousand signatures. This event was published in 16 news papers including the prominent ones. See the news coverage
4. Many members have started their own mini campaigns at village levels and district level with their own innovative ideas which has given it as shape of nationwide campaign with great media coverage. See the news coverage
5. VoTV members, wrote letters to celebs who endorse Tobacco product. Such letters from cancer patients has led to a sharp decline in celeb endorsement. One such example is – Sanjay Dutt says no to gutka, tobacco endorsements
6. VoTV members condemned the senior politicians who represent Tobacco Industry as advocates – See the news coverage
7. VoTV members worked with the media to condemn the government for delay in pictorial warning and their views got published in several news papers See the news coverage
8. VoTV members condemned the government for offering top government honor to the Chairman of Indian Tobacco Company – See the news coverage
9. Shri Devendra Singh, a VoTV member, spearheaded a campaign where Tobacco Victims participated in anti-corruption campaign in New Delhi. This got a huge media coverage. – See the news coverage
For more news coverage –
See the news coverage Link 01
See the news coverage Link 02
See the news coverage Link 03
10. VoTV members partcipated in a unique campaign along with Directors of the Regional cancer centers in several states of India on 31st May, 2011. These Directors are opinion leaders of oncology in India. Seventeen such Directors wrote letters to the Prime Minister and Health minister to ban Gutka and Pan Masala in India. This campaign had a dramatic impact on Media and Society at large. This activity was covered by 27 leading news papers of different states. One such coverage
11. With World Lung foundation VoTV members developed a powerful Television campaign on smokeless tobacco showing a 24 years boy who died of throat cancer while the campaign was still running – See the news coverage
12. VoTV members also consented to participate in a hugely popular online campaign, with World Lung Foundation and several other NGOs, against smokeless tobacco – See the news coverage
13. Three of the VoTV members are also volunteered to become interventions in the ongoing Supreme Court Case against Gutka/Pan Masala. See the news coverage
14. Most of the VoTV members have emerged as strong health advocates in their local community educating people about early signs of cancer, diagnosis, treatment etc.
15. They have been participating in most of the tobacco control meetings as important stakeholders. For example, VoTV members attended the music release of Shaan at Tata Memorial Hospital – See the news coverage
16. VoTV members have also been participating alongside doctors in BBC world service media workshops. It is noticeable that their presence offers an additional impact to media coverage.
17. Lobbying with Members of Parliament and the policy makers – On, 11th February and 17th March, the VOTV members held a meeting in New Delhi which turned out to be the “mother of all meeting”. They shared their plight with Ministers, Bureaucrats, media, public in a very emotional way. These meetings not only sensitized the media and policy makers but also sensationalized the issue of smokeless tobacco. The media response was beyond expectations.
Voice of Tobacco Victims writes to Anna Hazare: “Rescue us from Tobacco-industry related corruption”
Shri Anna Hazare
Subject: While other forms of corruption makes us poorer, corruption in Tobacco is killing 1 million Indian every year and many of them are young!
We, the victims of corrupt practices of many Ministers of this Government, write to you to extend our support and to thank you for your worthy endeavour towards purging the society and the Government of corruption. We’re survivors of cancers caused by tobacco, who are with you in your struggle to ensure that the Government is run by people who don’t harbour and promote private interests at the cost of public interests. In India, we lose 1 million lives every year to the use of tobacco, which is a habit that is picked up at a very early age in the absence of any clear warnings about its detrimental health effects.
Pictorial warnings, which are an important provision of our tobacco control law, Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act, 2003 (COTPA) were first notified in July, 2006. These were to be implemented by Feb, 2007 but were delayed and diluted numerous times by a Group of Ministers (GOM) with known tobacco industry interests. It took a Supreme Court judgment to enforce this provision in 2009. As per law, the pictorial warnings are to be changed every year but a GOM with known tobacco interests have been repeatedly delaying its implementation.
A recent RTI makes clear that this Group, comprises of Pranab Mukherjee, who comes from a bidi rolling constituency; Praful Patel, who is a known bidi king and has made millions by selling death to young consumers in the form of bidis; Jaipal Reddy has an experience of over two decades of fighting for tobacco issues. This group has been intervening in a health related area, which is not part of their mandate to serve their own tobacco interests. Abhishek Manu Singhvi (Congress Rajya Sabha member) is in the payroll of Gutka/Pan Masala industry, Arun Jaitly ( BJP leader of opposition in Rajya sabha) is a lawyer of Indian Tobacco Company. There are several MPs and MLAs who directly and indirectly patronize this sinful industry. Tobacco Companies offer huge sums of money to the election funds of political parties. Government makes laws that are favorable to the tobacco Industry rather than the public. Moreover, law enforcing agency turn a blind eye to violations of anti-tobacco laws for obvious reasons. Rather than discouraging tobacco industry, GOI conferred highest civilian award to the Chairman of a leading cigarette company in year 2011.
We urge you, Annaji, to fight this battle against corruption on our behalf. We urge you, to fight this battle against merchants of death. We urge you, to fight this battle for a healthier India. We urge you, to take up the issue of pictorial warnings with the Government and ask them to not delay its implementation any further. You’re our lone saviour.
We hope that you will not disappoint us and help us in saving the lives of many like us.