Home / Politics / Policy /  Tobacco use in India seen killing 1.5 mn a year by 2020

New Delhi: As many as 94% of smokers in India have no intention to quit, says a report that flies in the face of the government’s vaunted tobacco intervention policies and forecasts an annual toll of 1.5 million deaths from tobacco use in the country by 2020.

The report’s findings confirm what has for long been suspected—that there is little or no compliance with smoking bans, health warnings are not an effective enough deterrent and tobacco advertising bans are not working.

The findings are a part of the International Tobacco Control Evaluation Project (TCP India Survey), which was released on Thursday at the International Conference on Public Health Priorities in the 21st century.

The TCP India survey is based on interviews with 8,000 tobacco users and 2,400 non-smokers in Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and West Bengal.

The international conference has set the tone for a series of legislative changes to facilitate the so-called tobacco endgame, with the Indian government looking at comprehensive smoke-free laws, stricter enforcement of bans and higher tobacco prices to reduce tobacco-related deaths.

India will have to pay a heavy price if the government does not initiate better intervention strategies to control tobacco use, with the number of tobacco-related deaths forecast at 1.5 million by 2020.

“If this were a report card, India would fail. The survey findings are a serious cause of concern and the high levels of non-compliance is not surprising," said Prakash Gupta, managing director of the Healis-Sekhsaria Institute for Public Health. “More needs to be done to restrict tobacco advertising, marketing and promotion. The survey provides India’s legislators with a clear remit to strengthen tobacco control policies and enforce them robustly."

India introduced tobacco control legislation in 2003 and ratified the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in 2004. In 2009, India became the first country to implement warnings on smokeless tobacco packages and in 2011, the country implemented what was considered to be the world’s strictest restrictions of tobacco promotion in films.

The TCP report is the first evidence that none of the policies are having desired impact, said Geoffrey Fong, principal investigator for the project.

“We studied the impact of FCTC in 22 countries and Indians emerged as the least likely people to quit smoking. They are also the least likely to think about health risks despite warning labels. The findings indicate that neither smoke-free laws nor tobacco pricing are motivating Indians to quit. We recommend that India adopt strategies that have proved successful in other countries," he added.

As a part of the “end game" strategy, the Indian government could be looking at steeper taxation and licensing of production and sale of tobacco products. India is home to 275 million smokers and nearly half of all cancer cases in the country are attributed to tobacco use.

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