Govt admits to letting tax money go up in 'smoke'

Violating WHO rules, government spent over Rs 3 lakh on a private tobacco promotional event

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Sonal Matharu | September 2, 2010



Almost two months after the issue of Tobacco Board of India (TBI), a department under the commerce and industry ministry, sponsoring a private tobacco promotional event to be held in India was raised by non-governmental organisations, TBI has finally admitted spending money on the event which is against government rules.

TBI, in an RTI application response filed by a Bangalore-based Institute of Public Health (IPH), has admitted that it is investing Rs 3,26,620 on the Global Tobacco Networking Forum (GTNF), an event where private tobacco companies will get together and discuss business prospects. The event (www.gtnf-2010.com), scheduled to be held in Bangalore from 4th to 8th October 2010, is being organised by Tobacco Reporter, a cigarettes and tobacco magazine for the global tobacco industry.

In 2003, India became a signatory of the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), the most widely ratified global public health treaty initiated by the WHO, which mandates strong and effective tobacco control measures for implementation of the treaty obligations. Under its guidelines it is illegal for any government body to partner with the tobacco industry because of a conflict of interest between the tobacco industry and the public health programmes.

India could face severe repercussions for sponsoring a private tobacco industry event as it is against Article 5.3 of the WHO convention which states that the member countries must protect all public health policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry. This invariably means that any party to the treaty should not accept, support or endorse partnerships with tobacco industry or with any entity/person that may further the interest of tobacco industry and should not grant incentives, privileges to the tobacco industry in establishing or run or promote their business in the country.

Besides this, the Indian Parliament enacted the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Act, 2003 (COTPA), which denies any sponsorship led promotion of tobacco products.
During the four day event, delegates from various countries will talk on topics like: ‘Total display and tobacco bans’, ‘Why do people smoke?’, and ‘What it’s like to be a smoker in 2010?’. There are over 20 sponsors and over 40 speakers shortlisted for the event.  Godfrey Phillips India Limited and Indian Tobacco Company Limited, two tobacco manufacturing giants in India, are also participating in GTNF 2010. TBI’s logo appears on the GTNF’s website under the “hospitality and sponsorship” segment.

A report by government of India in 2004 estimates that nearly nine lakh people die every year in the country due to tobacco related diseases. The health ministry launched National tobacco control programme in 2007.

However, when asked, the health secretary Sujatha Rao at an event in a public school in Delhi earlier this month denied any knowledge of the “greatest tobacco talk-show on earth” (as says the GTNF website). She said, “I am not aware of the event. There is a conflict of interest. The TBI wants to promote tobacco and we want to stop it.”

Copy of the RTI response is attached.
 

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