“Voice of Tobacco Victims” is a campaign to make Tobacco Victims as the public face of the tobacco control movement in India. It is unfortunate that a cancer causing substance, that kills millions every year, is sold so freely and advertized so brazenly. It is disturbing to witness ever increasing number of young cancer patients visiting cancer clinic every day. Most of them, owing to advanced stage, die within 5 years of diagnosis. Those who survive, live with severe depression, dejection, disfigurement and disability. Should we remain a silent witness of a crime and wait for someone else to find a solution? We intend to make tobacco victims as the public face of the war on tobacco. We help tobacco victims get justice and help them raise a war cry against the very industry that sold them cancer.. We believe that no one can withstand this formidable force that is driven by pure passion. This campaign is supported by Tata Memorial Hospital, Action Council against Tobacco India, Healis, Salaam Bombay Foundation, World Health Organization, American cancer Society, World Lung Foundation, Campaign For Tobacco Free Kids, Indian Dental Association etc Finally, this experiment began on 31st May, 2008 with a small group of 10 cancer patients who launched this campaign at Tata Memorial Hospital. 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!”
- The first meeting of VoV 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.
- 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.
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- In September, 2010 during National Congress on Tobacco or Health at Mumbai, the VoV 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.
- 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
- VoV 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
- VoV members condemned the senior politicians who represent Tobacco Industry as advocates – See the news coverage
- VoV 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
- VoV members condemned the government for offering top government honor to the Chairman of Indian Tobacco Company – See the news coverage
- Shri Devendra Singh, a VoV 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
- VoV 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
- With World Lung foundation VoV 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
- VoV 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
- Three of the VoV members are also volunteered to become interventions in the ongoing Supreme Court Case against Gutka/Pan Masala.
- Most of the VoV members have emerged as strong health advocates in their local community educating people about early signs of cancer, diagnosis, treatment etc.
- They have been participating in most of the tobacco control meetings as important stakeholders. For example, VoV members attended the music release of Shaan at Tata Memorial Hospital – See the news coverage
- VoV 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.
- Lobbying with Members of Parliament and the policy makers – On, 11th February and 17th March, the VOV 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.