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AFTC backs Tobacco Control Bill ban on advertising

MUMBAI: The Tobacco Control Bill, due to be tabled in the parliament shortly by the union minister of parliamentary affairs, health and family welfare Sushma Swaraj, has received a boost.

The Advocacy Forum for Tobacco Control (AFTC) has been formed to support the government as it presents the bill. The forum consists of a coalition of health professionals, research scientists, NGOs and like-minded people from organisations like the Cancer Patients Aid Association, Consumer Education and Research Centre, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research

The Bill seeks to put a total ban on advertising of tobacco products and prohibits sponsorship of sports and cultural events either directly or indirectly. It also prohibits the sale of tobacco products to minors, and specifies that the new warning on cigarette packs should be more prominent in terms of liability, language, colour and display. The Bill proposes that the nicotine and tar content will have to be specified on packs. Goods without specified warnings on nicotine and tar will be confiscated and penalties will be levied.

Last March, delegates to the World Health Organisation (WHO) agreed upon the wording of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), the world's first anti-tobacco treaty. The Indian Tobacco Control Bill has many provisions similar to FCTC; and if made into an Act, will establish India as the pioneer nation to conform to WHO standards regarding tobacco.

WHO projections state that by 2030, tobacco will be the leading cause of death, claiming 10 million lives a year. The proportion of tobacco-related deaths that occur in developing countries is expected to increase from the current 50 per cent of global tobacco related deaths to 70 per cent for the same period. The incidence could be higher in India, with one billion cigarettes currently being smoked everyday.

It wouldn't be surprising if tobacco related deaths, which currently number 800,000-900,000 per year, rise three to four-fold over the next 30 years. Heart diseases, cancers and chronic respiratory ailments are among the principal causes of death due to tobacco which is a cause of more than 25 diseases. Recent research from the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) reveals that there are 700,000-900,000 cancer cases in India per year, with an estimated 250,000 cases being tobacco related.

Tobacco farming is not just socially undesirable but also economically unfavourable. While the total excise from tobacco in India was Rs 69.34 billion in 1999-2000, the estimated health costs as a result of tobacco consumption was over Rs 270 billion during this period.

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