New Delhi: Noting that use of tobacco imposes serious consequences on economy and society, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today said its control needs a combination of political and public health action and multi-sectoral policies will drive down its demand and supply.
In a televised address at `The International Conference on Public Health Priorities in the 21st Century: The Endgame for Tobacco`, Singh said tobacco use had claimed about 100 million lives in 20th century and is likely to claim a billion lives this century "unless it is stopped with a firm resolve".
Stating that the country is committed to a vision of tobacco-free society, he said Parliament had enacted comprehensive legislations for tobacco control and touted the ban on sale and manufacture of gutka products in 33 states and UTs.
He also highlighted the ban on public smoking and ban on advertisement of tobacco products that help reduce tobacco intake.
Voicing concerns of tobacco farmers, Singh said, "As we act with conviction and commitment to eliminate tobacco as a threat to global health, we must also help those engaged in tobacco farming or manufacture to move towards economically viable alternate livelihoods."
Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad said India faces a unique challenge in its response to the tobacco burden as myriad varieties of tobacco products, both smoking and smokeless, are widely used in the country.
He said as per the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (2009-10), one in four or about 275 million Indians use tobacco in some form or the other.
He noted that India has highest number of smokeless tobacco users in the world and also the highest number of oral cancer cases, 90 per cent of which are attributable to smokeless tobacco use.
WHO Director General Margaret Chan said tobacco industry poses a big threat to tobacco campaign.
"Tobacco is one product that we certainly do not need...The answer to tobacco should be no," she said.
Azad said at per GATS survey, of the nearly 35 per cent Indian adults who are tobacco users, 21 per cent use smokeless tobacco products like gutkha, zarda and khaini, while 9 per cent smoke and 5 per cent smoke as well as use smokeless tobacco.
The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) is a potent weapon to curb the tobacco epidemic and recommends evidence based policy measures to be adopted by all, he said.
"To learn from successful models, India is keenly observing global developments around strong and innovative tobacco control policy measures elsewhere," he said, citing initiatives like plain packaging of tobacco products adopted by Australia and current policy debates on tobacco free future generations and end-game objectives adopted by Finland and Norway in their health programmes.
He hoped the conference will provide a strong fillip to multi-sectoral engagement of governments, inter-governmental agencies, NGOs and private sector in strengthening tobacco control policies across the globe and aid in paving the path for a tobacco-free future generation.
The WHO Director General cautioned that while speculation on several `end-game strategies` for preventing use of tobacco were being evolved across the world for many years, there is severe resistance to prevention of its use by manufacturers as these strategies threaten the existence of tobacco industry.
She said many end-game policies attack the supply side of this problem, adding that there has been tremendous preventive impact of cost-effective measures for demand reduction.
As the "death clock keeps ticking and the numbers keep growing faster every minute", the WHO DG noted that people, community leaders and other stakeholders must support efforts of governments to put in place effective mechanisms for tobacco control.
"Tobacco control requires cooperation from multiple sectors of government, trade, finance, agriculture, education, law enforcement and the judicial system," she said.
Noting that "prevention is the best control", she said, while devising strategies to control tobacco use governments must be "realistic".
She said many countries give more importance to tobacco as trade and commerce than as a severe threat to health.
Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) President K Srinath Reddy, one of the organisers, said the conference will come out with a declaration which will help in evolving tobacco end-game strategies.