Voice of Tobacco Victims (VoTV), an NGO dedicated to oppose the sale of tobacco and tobacco-based products in the state, has written to Punjab finance minister PS Dhindsa to increase taxes on tobacco and its products in the state in the ensuing budget.
The NGO office-bearers alleged that despite the importance being attached by the state government to the early detection and treatment of cancer, the sale and purchase of tobacco continues unabated due to lack of implementation of the laws to check the sale of tobacco and tobacco-based products.
“Tobacco remains the largest killer among the patients dying of cancer and this menace needs to be curbed by the government. The Punjab government, which, on paper, is worried a lot for cancer patients and the spread of the disease, is doing very little for fighting tobacco menace, which is one of the major reasons for cancer,” said Dr Prahlad Duggal, patron, Punjab VoTV, at the biannual meeting of the NGO in New Delhi.
The meeting was chaired by Keshav Desiraju, secretary, health, and Shakuntla Gamlin, joint secretary, ministry of health and family welfare, government of India. Dr Duggal said Punjab is facing an epidemic of cancer and the government is taking various measures and spending lot of money on this, but it seems to be ignoring the economic benefits of effective implantation of existing anti-tobacco laws in the state.
“In Punjab, GATS data shows that 11.2% of the population consumes tobacco. Of this, at least 30% will die of tobacco-related diseases and this number is continuously increasing because of the aggressive marketing strategies of the tobacco companies, which are using different strategies to make increasing number of people hooked to tobacco even as the government looks the other way,” he said.
He alleged that the government seemed satisfied by cosmetic measures like declaring various districts tobacco-free, which in reality have got no bearing on keeping this menace under check. By saving so many people from falling prey to tobacco and dying because of cancer and other tobacco-related diseases, the government will actually save a lot of money, which will be much more than the revenue loss because of decreased tobacco sale, he added.
Regarding the ban on 'gutkha', Dr Duggal said there is actually no ban on the sale of 'gutkha' on ground in Punjab. “The vendors are selling banned products to their regular customers in a clandestine manner and the authorities are turning a blind eye to it. The only change is that the price of these banned items has increased and so has the profit of the vendors,” he said.
A resolution was passed to appeal the government to effectively enforce this ban across the state and protect the populace of Punjab from dying from cancer and other tobacco-related diseases.