news Wednesday, April 08, 2015 - 05:30
The News Minute| April 5, 2015| 8.00 pm IST This is a pictorial gift to all politicians in general and the three Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) lawmakers in particular who last week contended that there was no scientific evidence in India to link tobacco smoking and chewing to cancer. One of them is a tobacco businessman.  I have worked in the WHO’s tobacco control programme the Tobacco Free Initiative (TFI) from its inception in May 1998, leading its media and communications team. We had five years to negotiate the world’s first treaty devoted entirely to public health, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). From a policy-driven communications and media perspective, it was difficult to find common ground between countries that had simple posters for tobacco control and the United States where litigation was in full-swing. Canada, Australia, Brazil, South Africa were some of the other countries leading the struggle against big tobacco.  There was also a small team (of which I was part of) that conducted an investigation in the house to see if the tobacco industry had penetrated the WHO. It had. We decided to go full throttle and say it as it is. We collaborated with the department of health in California for some posters that backed our campaign “Tobacco Kills – Don’t Be Duped.” Other materials were developed and designed by a splendid team of committed men and women from around the world. See here. In 2004, we asked Oliviero Toscanni, the famous Italian photographer who had put Benetton on the global map if we could use his poster of a smoker’s from COLORS, Benetton’s in-house magazine.  See the Smoker's Body.  The smoker’s body poster is as shocking as it is real.  We secured the rights to publish the poster in 2004 and worked with doctors and epidemiologists to ensure that the science was right. The one million deaths in India due to tobacco-related diseases can be prevented. Standing between data and decisive action is the tobacco industry and all political parties are responsible for this situation. The latest in a long line of inaction is the decision to rescind on pictorial depiction of the havoc tobacco consumption causes in a body. Bureaucrats, NGOs, politicians and Indian and foreign tobacco companies share the blame for the over 2500 daily deaths caused by cigarettes, bidis and chewing tobacco in India. Pretending that it is anything else is a white lie.  No, dear parliamentarians, tobacco addiction cannot be compared to sugar or alcohol addiction. There is a safe way to consume the latter two. There is no safe way to smoke or chew tobacco. I will write more of that in another post. Meanwhile, do visit the tobacco Legacy website to see the over 40 million documents that were brought into the public domain by the famous Minnesota case that broke the tobacco industry’s back in the United States. The Marlboro Man has moved to India, it seems. *Chitra Subramaniam worked with the WHO’s Director General Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland in Geneva on her flagship tobacco control project.

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