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World No Tobacco Day: Doctors demand steep tobacco tax

World No Tobacco Day: Doctors demand steep tobacco tax

New Delhi: In view of the grim scenario on cancer and its rising incidence, Rajiv Gandhi Cancer Institute & Research Centre (RGCIRC) has recommended a set of measures including steep tobacco tax, plain packaging as per WHO norms, and launch of a Polio-like campaign by roping in Amitabh Bachchan as a brand ambassador to halt the “menacing march of this ugly epidemic of 21st century.” A staggering 1.45 million new patients of cancer are likely on 2016. 

“WHO says tobacco use is the single greatest avoidable risk factor for cancer mortality worldwide, causing an estimated 22% of cancer deaths per year. It is believed that out of the about 60% cancer cases which are preventable in India, 40% pertains to the use of tobacco. Isn’t it not worrying then that we have failed to contain this menace despite its huge social and economic impact on our lives,” asks Dr AK Dewan, Medical Director & Chief of Head & Neck Services, RGCIRC. 

Calling this an ugly epidemic of 21st Century, Dr Dewan says, we all must come together to stop its spread.  

“The government can take a leaf out of its own experiments in Polio and Filariasis, two debilitating diseases, that it so handsomely contained. A solid two-pronged strategy – of massive awareness drive, and on-ground intervention by mass drugs administration led to the success of these two campaigns. Why has such experiments not been done for cancer, especially the awareness part,” adds Dr Dewan. 

This is especially in view of the terrible implications of the disease. The costs of tobacco use, according to WHO, are measured in its enormous toll of disease, suffering and family distress. Economies also suffer from increased health-care costs and decreased productivity. It also incapacitates many young men and women, who potentially could contribute immensely to the economy and society. Then why not a massive awareness campaign on the line of Polio? “Why can’t we rope in an Amitabh Bachchan or an Aamir Khan, a Shahrukh Khan or a Sachin Tendulkar as a brand ambassador on anti-tobacco campaign? Is it because of the enormity of revenues that are linked to this industry or is it a complex interplay of politics and business,” Dr Dewan poses.

High taxation is one demand-reduction policy that has been advocated across the globe and in India too, and that certainly is one push factor that must be taken up seriously. Many governments’ argument against coming down heavy on tobacco through taxation is that it will lower revenues, increase illicit activities, affect employment and leave smokers impoverished. 

World Bank, however, has said that such economic fears deterring policy makers may be unfounded. “Health, and not economic arguments, are the reason for controlling tobacco, but economic arguments are raised as an obstacle to tobacco control policies,” said former WHO Director-General Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland. A WHO report also said, “The tobacco industry has used its economic power, lobbying and marketing machinery, and manipulation of the media to discredit scientific research and influence governments  in order to propagate the sale and distribution of its deadly products,” added this report. Little surprise, Dr Brundtland termed tobacco use as “a communicated disease – communicated through marketing.”

Dr Dewan is also for WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control that is asking all countries to get ready for plain packaging of tobacco products.

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