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Widow tobacco ban cry

Volunteers at a street show to mark the World No Tobacco Day in Bhubaneswar on Sunday. (PTI) 

New Delhi, May 31: Five widows of former tobacco users have written a joint letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, seeking tougher regulations to curb tobacco consumption and pointing out that Gujarat is the only state which continues to manufacture gutkha, or chewable tobacco.

The letter, sent yesterday on the eve of the World No Tobacco Day, outlines the illnesses that each of their husbands had suffered and calls for a "complete ban" on tobacco, citing medical statistics that 40 per cent of cancer deaths are related to tobacco.

"How many more widows and orphans will you allow the tobacco industry to make before India says, Enough?" said the letter, signed by Anup Shakti Nigam, Alka Pandey, Kaumudi Chaturvedi, Niku Sidhu and Sumitra Pednekar, and released to the media yesterday by the Delhi-based Voluntary Health Association of India, a non-government organisation campaigning for tougher tobacco control regulations.

A senior oncologist in Delhi has independently issued a call to the government to get cigarette manufacturers to mandatorily colour cigarette butts red, saying this should be part of a series of measures to deter people from consuming tobacco.

"The red colour is intended to signify danger," said A.K. Dewan, the medical director of the Rajiv Gandhi Cancer Institute and Research Centre, New Delhi. "The butts of cigarettes too should carry a message - red will convey continued warning even while smoking," he said in a statement.

The appeals to the government come at a time it has kept on hold a health ministry proposal to expand the size of pictorial warnings on tobacco packets from the current 40 per cent to 85 per cent.

"The debate on pictorial warnings is misplaced - we should have 100 per cent anti-smoking display and messages," Dewan said, citing a recent study that has established the contribution of tobacco to the global burden of cancer.

The letter to the Prime Minister from the five women who lost their husbands to tobacco-related diseases says Gujarat is the only state in the country that continues to manufacture gutkha while others have banned its manufacture in recent years. "From there (Gujarat), it is smuggled to all other states in violation of the bans," the letter said.

Their letter has asked for a "complete ban" on tobacco, but public health experts caution that although there is no debate on the health hazards of tobacco, seeking a ban at this point is impractical.

Public health experts and health officials have earlier said the phase-out of tobacco will need to be a gradual process that would need to be driven by falling public demand for tobacco products and preceded by tobacco cultivators shifting to alternative crops.


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