Anti-tobacco activists ask UN to withdraw award to ITC

New Delhi: Taking strong objection to United Nations awarding the `World Business and Development Award, 2012` to ITC Limited, the largest producer of cigarettes in India, an NGO has written to the agency to withdraw the honour.

The Voluntary Health Association of India also said the award given to ITC at the Rio+20 Summit is against the spirit of World Health Organization`s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), the first ever global public health treaty negotiated under the UN, which India ratified in 2003.

The treaty, it said, requires signatories to avoid conflicts of interests with tobacco industry and have near negligible interaction with them.

The NGO also expressed surprise that the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) and the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which are committed to health and tobacco control measures, sponsored and presented this year`s World Business and Development Award to a tobacco company.

It claimed the company`s core business "leads to more poverty, underdevelopment, disease, death and environmental damage".

"This is a great discouragement for those working in the area of public health. The award will portray the tobacco industry in a positive light and add to its clout which it has time and again used to oppose tobacco control initiatives," said Bhavna B Mukhopadhyay, Executive Director of VHAI.

The company, however, said 57 per cent of its new revenue comes from non-cigarette areas and the company has helped earned carbon credits for tribals.

"This award acknowledges a global exemplar in creating sustainable livelihoods of 56 million person days of employment for poor tribals and small farmers, besides creating 125,000 hectares of plantation. This initiative has transformed lives of tribals in states like Andhra Pradesh and the resultant economic prospecrity is well documented and appreciated by both government and the people in rural areas," ITC spokesperson Najeeb Arif said.

However, the VHAI demanded that the award be withdrawn.

"We hope that the Award Committee will maintain the purity of the Awards and will withdraw this it from the company with immediate effect," it said.

As per the Global Adult Tobacco Survey-India 2009-2010 Report released by Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, 14 per cent adults (24.3 pc males and 2.9 pc females) smoke some form of tobacco whereas, 5.7 per cent adults smoke only cigarettes (10.3 pc male 0.8 pc females), the VHAI said.


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