The 7th edition of World Health Organisation(WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) – the world’s biggest conference on anti-tobacco policies — began here on Monday, with India and Sri Lanka determined to eliminate tobacco consumption from the roots.
At the convention, Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena urged the world not to succumb or compromise with the tobacco industry, terming them manipulative and influencing policy makers most of the time.
As part of the new efforts against the industry, Sirisena said Sri Lanka will introduce plain packaging of all tobacco products in a new step to curb its consumption and its illicit trade, stating smokeless tobacco was an alarming issue in his country.
Indian Health Minister J.P. Nadda, who opened the convention, called for the prevention of youths from adopting tobacco consumption as it continued to cause one million deaths every year.
“We still have a long way to go in terms of preventing the millions of deaths caused by tobacco both in India and other parts of the world. There is a huge economic burden on people due to the tobacco use, which needs to be prevented,” said Nadda.
According to WHO, India has 75 million tobacco consumers and every year 1.2 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is spent on tobacco control programmes and treatment of patients suffering from various types of cancers caused by tobacco.
Pointing out that tobacco is part of the socio-culture, a major cause behind its increased consumption, Nadda said: “We are certainly trying to remove this issue from roots.”
Member countries on the occasion said the WHO FCTC rules were the strongest tool to curb tobacco use in the world.
The six-day COP 7 Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) Convention will bring together the WHO FCTC’s 180 Parties (nations) — which includes almost every country in the world as well as regional economic integration organisations like the European Union.
WHO and the Health Ministry have been facing criticism from tobacco farmers for last six months over FCTC COP 7 and the stringent laws against the tobacco industry including the hike in pictorial warnings on all tobacco products.
Several letters were written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Nadda seeking participation in FCTC COP7 but they did not yield any result.
On Monday, over 500 tobacco farmers protested under the banner of the Federation of All India Farmers Association and International Tobacco Growers Association. They were detained outside the India Exposition Mart — the main venue of the COP7 FCTC.
Though the FCTC Secretariat said there was no point negotiating with the farmers as they were manipulative and adamant over their own demands without understanding the disease burden caused by tobacco, the Health Ministry said it will talk to them after the convention gets over.
“Let’s differentiate the farmers from the tobacco farmers. I have seen the tobacco farmers… They always try to manipulate. Even if they are brought on table, they are not on the table and always think about the profits. They bribe… so sometimes it’s difficult to actually let them participate due to conflict of interest,” Vera da Coasta Silva, Head of the UN Tobacco Treaty Secretariat, told IANS.
Additional Health Secretary Arun Panda said: “We will certainly talk to them (tobacco farmers) over their demands and grievances.”