Cancer patients pin hope on Sushma Swaraj for gutkha ban

Doctors, NGOs bring cancer patients on the forefront for change in anti-tobacco policies


Sonal Matharu | March 17, 2011

Mouth cancer survivors from the country got together here on Thursday to advocate a complete ban on the manufacturing and sale of all forms of chewing tobacco in India.

The survivors, mostly patients from Tata Memorial Hospital, Mumbai, have formed a cancer victims-led initiative called the ‘voice of victims’ with the help of doctors from that hospital and various NGOs to “sensitise parliamentarians and policy makers of the dangers of tobacco use”.

This was the second time the team of voice of victims met senior opposition leader Sushma Swaraj. The leader assured that the issue of ban on chewing tobacco will be taken up in the ongoing session of parliament in a big way.

“I have urged members of parliament those who are addicted to chewing tobacco to meet the cancer survivors and see their impending future,” said Swaraj.

She added that she wrote a letter to the health minister on having fresh pictorial warning on tobacco packets by December but got a reply only in January. “By then, the government had already postponed the date for fresh warnings,” she said.

The leader signed a pledge that says, “I pledge my support as a concerned citizen and as a representative of the people to help curb this growing menace with all my strength and conviction. I will raise my voice against this issue and support all initiative to rid India of this menace and help save millions of Indian lives.”

“How much revenue does the government earn from allowing these poisonous substances to be sold cheap in handy packets anyway? Why cannot they ban chewing tobacco?” asks Ashish Jain, one of the mouth cancer survivors.

The victims demand a ban on gutka, implementation of stringent pictorial warnings on chewing tobacco products , increased taxes on chewing tobacco products, ban on surrogate advertising, stopping sale of chewing tobacco near educational institutes and introducing tobacco control programmes in consultation with chewing tobacco victims.

In India, eight to nine lakh people die of cancer caused due to chewing tobacco, said Dr Pankaj Chaurvedi, Tata Memorial Hospital. He informed that children get addicted to chewing tobacco at an early age of eight to ten years. Most cancer cases caused due to chewing tobacco are detected when these addicts are 20 years old as cancer takes approximately ten years to develop.

“Lab tests have proved that hazardous substances which are used in fire extinguishers, pesticides and paints are used in gutka. Gutka can be easily banned under the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act,” said Dr Chaturvedi.

Voice of victims is a collaborated effort of Voluntary Health Association of India (VHAI), Healis, Tata Memorial hospital, Salaam Bombay Foundation, Action Council Against Tobacco and cancer victims, survivors and their families.



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