Anti-tobacco activists and civil society organisations have long been campaigning against the manufacture of tobacco products because of their highly addictive and carcinogenic nature. According to the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS 2010), released by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in October 2010, more than one-third (35 per cent) of adults in India use tobacco in some or the other form, including about 29 per cent in Andhra Pradesh itself.
The Price Stabilisation Fund Trust of India pegs the country as the second largest producer of tobacco in the world and as it turns out, Andhra Pradesh is one the highest producers of tobacco in the country. After continued protests, AP finally became the 17th state in India to ban tobacco products under the Food and Safety Act in January 2013. But anti-tobacco champion, Dr Vijay Anand Reddy, director, Apollo Cancer Hospital, says that the ban has not been enforced strictly. To push his agenda forward, he has been on a fast since Monday.
“If you drive across the city, you will see that all the pan shops are still selling tobacco products. Gutkhas and pan masalas are freely being sold without anybody monitoring them. It is up to the Food and Safety Commissioner to look after this. Unfortunately, the Food and Safety Commission does not have an enforcement team in place, so they cannot keep a check on every pan store in the city. I feel that this responsibility must be given to the GHMC and the police department to ensure such products are not sold,” he shares.
“The ban has been in place for over an year now. We had filed a PIL and orders were given by the court to immediately enforce the ban. However, it needed to be renewed on December 28, 2013 but was not done so until two weeks ago. Now, even though there is a ban in place, it is not being implemented in the state since everybody is worried about the political situation in the country,” explains the 53-year-old.
As the Chairman for CURE Foundation, a cancer prevention initiative, Dr Vijay has been a vociferous anti-tobacco advocate since he began practising oncology.
The doctor feels that Gutka manufacturers are extremely powerful financially and exploit the leniency shown by the government. “The Gutka manufacturers are financially very strong. They are looking to exploit the loose ends in the government. Just because everybody is busy with the current political situation in the state, it doesn’t mean that everything comes to a standstill and important causes are ignored. We are continuing our fight against tobacco and have already contacted the Police Department, Food and Safety Commission and the GHMC,” he shares.
Today being World Cancer Day, Dr Reddy and his team will stage a peaceful protest to ensure that the ban on tobacco products is observed stringently. “We are holding a peace camp near Indira Park from 9 am as a sign of protest. People from ‘The Voice of Tobacco Victims’ will also be present. I will be fasting as well so that they will implement theban,” he adds.