Govt's anti-tobacco efforts go up in smoke at GTNF

Tobacco Board of India under the commerce ministry sponsors tobacco industry’s event to be held in Bangalore

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Sonal Matharu | July 6, 2010




On one hand, the health ministry is implementing programmes to reduce the use of tobacco in the country and on the other hand, Tobacco Board of India, a department under the ministry of commerce, is sponsoring a private event aimed at expanding the reach and scope of tobacco industry in India.

The event is called the Third Global Tobacco Networking Forum (GTNF) 2010, and is being organised by Tobacco Reporter, a cigarettes and tobacco magazine for global tobacco industry. It is scheduled to be held from 4th to 8th October in Bangalore and will have participants like Godfrey Phillips India Limited and Indian Tobacco Company Limited, two tobacco manufacturing giants in India.

The logo of the Tobacco Board appears on the website created by the GTNF to provide details of the event (www.gtnf-2010.com) under the “hospitality and sponsorship” segment. India signed the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) in 2003 and 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.

Ironically, the post of the chairman of Tobacco Board is lying vacant for the past two months and the members showed ignorance on the issue. A board member of the Tobacco Board, Dr V Krishna Murthy said, “I am not aware of any such event which the Tobacco Board is sponsoring. We are a government body, we cannot sponsor private events. The chairman usually discusses such issues with the board members before taking final decisions but the post of the chairman is lying vacant for the past two months.”

The GTNF mentions on its website that the participants will also get a chance to go visit Mysore on a field trip, which is a part of the four-day conference, and see the tobacco plantations and interact with the farmers. It says, “You will be invited to a disappearing tradition: the tobacco auction. In fact you will be witnessing one of the largest auctions of flue-cured tobaccos in the world.” GTNF’s first forum took place in Brazil in 2008 and the second in Thailand in 2009. There are over 20 sponsors and over 40 speakers shortlisted till date for the Bangalore event, as on their website. Most speakers are from the tobacco industry and will speak on issues such as, “Total display and tobacco bans” and “What it’s like to be a smoker in 2010”.

Meanwhile, Monika Arora, senior director, HRIDAY, a NGO working in the health sector said that the Indian government can draw a lot of acrimony for this act from various international organisations which fund government’s tobacco control programme. “Recently, chairman of Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Canada’s leading institute in research and innovation in global health, was found to be heading one of tobacco industry’s top executive post from 2004 to 2010. Canada is also a WHO FCTC signatory and drew a lot of flack for this act. India could face similar repercussions for sponsoring a private event as it is against Article 5.3 of the WHO convention which states that the parties to the treaty agree to protect tobacco control policies from tobacco industry interference India,” said Arora.

A Bangalore-based Institute of Public Health (IPH) has written letters to the chief minister of Karnataka, B S Yedyurappa, and the commerce minister, asking them to stop the event. They have also filed an application under the RTI Act and want to know how much of taxpayers’ money is being spent on the event by the Tobacco Board. They reply, however, is still awaited.

According the national family health survey (NFHS – 3), 57.6% and 10.9% women in the country use tobacco. Over nine lakh people die of tobacco related illness every year. The health ministry launched National tobacco control programme in 2007 by. They also came up with Cigarettes and other Tobacco Products (Prohibition, Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Act, 2003.
 

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