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Tobacco warnings put on hold, BJP MP wants research on cancer link


India has postponed its decision to implement pictorial warnings that cover 85% of tobacco packaging from April 1 after a parliamentary committee recommended it needed time to measure the economic impact of the decision on tobacco farmers.
BJP MP Dilip Kumar Gandhi, who is the chairperson of the Committee on Subordinate Legislation, wants India to do its own studies to prove tobacco causes cancer. "There is no Indian survey report to prove that tobacco consumption leads to cancer. All the studies are done abroad. Cancer does not happen only because of tobacco. We have to study the Indian context, as four crore people in states like Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh are dependent on bidi-making through Tendupatta," Gandhi told reporters.
Gandhi, in a letter to Union Health Minister J P Nadda, recommended the decision to implement labeling be postponed as "the impact of the notification on workers and manufacturers of the bidi/cigarette and tobacco industry in India and its financial impact as a whole on the revenue needs to be examined."
Public health activists, who had been working endlessly to ensure government of India takes measures to dissuade people from consuming tobacco or related products that included enhanced pictorial pack warnings, protested against the delay in implementation of the notification.
"An estimated 15% tobacco users are between the age group of 13 years and 15 years in India, and we fear this is gross underestimation. Nearly one-third of the current tobacco users are children," said Padmini Somani from Salaam Bombay Foundation.
Some MPs are also criticizing Gandhi's bizarre stand. "Tobacco causes cancer is realty. My father has been an oral cancer survivor for nearly 15 years now and I have experienced the suffering first hand. We recently lost a colleague RR Patil, who was like an elder brother, to cancer due to tobacco," said Supriya Sule, Lok Sabha MP, Nationalist Congress Party.
"We are not looking at complete ban overnight as we do understand the need for creating alternate jobs, so it can happen gradually," she said.
In October last year, the government had announced new pictorial health warnings for tobacco products that were to come into effect from April 1, this year.
A notification was also released requiring tobacco manufacturing companies to devote at least 85% of the surface areas of all tobacco products on both sides to graphically and literally represent the statuary warning.
"Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, a treaty that India has signed, says about 50% should be covered under pictorial pack warnings. India currently is abiding by 40% on just one side, which translates into 20% in total," says Dr Monika Arora from Public Health Foundation of India.
Dr Pankaj Chaturvedi, Professor, Head and Neck Surgeon Tata Memorial Hospital, says, "Tobacco Industry all over the world has admitted that their product is harmful, therefore, they agreed to adopt pack warning as part of their manufacturer liability."
"In fact, tobacco is the only consumer product that has no good use whatsoever apart of killing every third consumer. Tobacco is attributable cause of 50% cancers in India and majority of lung or heart diseases," he added.

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