India needs to curb the huge economic burden caused by tobacco and diseases related to it, which claim at least 1 million lives every year in the country, Union health minister JP Nadda said on Monday.
Nadda made the comments while inaugurating the seventh session of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) meet, world’s biggest convention on tobacco control policies.
Known as COP7, the meeting brings together the 180 parties to the FCTC, which represent nearly 90% of the world’s population. Several non-party countries and international and non-government organisations are also attending the meet. The meet is held every two years.
“WHO FCTC is our strongest tool to combat tobacco-related problems as challenges faced by India are formidable both in number and complexity,” Nadda said.
An estimated 275 million people in the country are tobacco users.
“The economic burden owing to tobacco is $22 billion, which is why we have to take measures to control its growing use. However, 2016 has been a landmark year for tobacco control in India as we implemented 85% pictorial health warnings on packages in April,” he said.
The five-day conference that India is hosting for the first time has measures to tackle new tobacco-related threats and challenges, including electronic delivery of tobacco products, on its agenda this year.
“Electronic delivery system of tobacco products such as e-cigarettes and tobacco pipes are fast gaining popularity among smokers, especially the youth, which is a cause for concern and needs to be addressed,” Sri Lankan president Maithripala Sirisena, who was a special addressee at the inaugural session, said.
Sri Lanka has a National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol in place that was set up to control the use of tobacco products and alcohol in the island nation.
The senior most official of the ministry said that smokeless tobacco is a bigger worry in India and the government aims to push for its control in the meet.
“Our struggle, unlike other countries where cigarettes are a norm, is with smokeless tobacco, and we will bring international communities attention on the subject,” CK Mishra, health secretary, said.
The Union health ministry wrote to the Uttar Pradesh government to try and ensure that workforce deployed at the venue in Greater Noida does not consume tobacco in any form to ensure the government does not face any embarrassment before the delegates from different countries.
“It would have been embarrassing to find empty pouches or packets of tobacco products in and around the venue of the conference that is essentially about tobacco control, which is why we wrote to the UP government,” a health ministry official said requesting anonymity.
“The sale of tobacco products is banned at the venue and in surrounding areas, but people can always sneak in the stuff and that will be difficult to check,” he added.