Saturday, September 22, 2012
Recently the Tobacco Institute of India has given awards to the tobacco farmers on their achievements. I met some of the farmers who attended the awards function , in casual chat one of the prospective farmer mentioned that he doesn't know what FCTC (Framework Convention on Tobacco Control) means until he attend the award ceremony. Most of the tobacco growers don't know about the FCTC which was ratified by Indian government in 5th February ,2004. The world Health Organization ( WHO) adopted the FCTC in May 2003 to reduce the tobacco consumption to protect the global public health and this is one of the most quickly ratified treaties in United Nations history. FCTC formulated the policies for the member countries to adopt the better strategies for tobacco control, those might be mandatory and some of them are provisional.
India is so active in FCTC treaty and was the one among the first signatory countries. Even prior to FCTC, India has been working on tobacco control by several legislations like COTPA (Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act) i.e. ban on smoking in public places, ban on underage sales, prohibiting the tobacco sales within 100 yards of schools and hospitals and restrictions on tobacco advertisements & sponsorships. Proactively our Union Health Ministry proposed that all new films have to flash a static anti-tobacco message during a smoking scene. The government initiatives are not only with consumption part but also in production and distribution, government is enforcing the heavy taxes to control the tobacco consumption. The tax on tobacco products in India is are complex and vary for tobacco products, cigarettes taxes are calculated by the length and the process of manufacturing which accounts approximately 38% on retails price and the Bidis (tobacco rolled in a leaf) are taxed very low averaging 9% on retail price.
India is the third largest producer and second largest group of smokers, over 120 millions of Indians smoke which counts 10% of the total world's tobacco smokers and over 250 million people across the country use tobacco products like gutka, cigarettes , bidis and other kinds. Tobacco will be responsible for 13% of all deaths in India, it counts around 900,000 deaths per year. Worldwide, every 1 in 10 adult deaths are caused by tobacco and it kills more than 5 million people per year. The World Health Organization warned that if the same consumption patterns continue, more than 8 million people will die per year by 2030. Everybody has the same questions, why farmers are growing tobacco even that is harm for human health and why governments are allowing tobacco cultivation even lot of health organizations and social groups are advocating a ban on tobacco. Tobacco cultivation is a part of Indian agriculture system, it is legally cultivated agriculture crop and globally trading commodity. Tobacco is the best cash crop among all cash crops… in terms of high value returns and suitable to most environments, on top that it’s a labor intensive crop which helps to improve the rural employment .Indian Tobacco Industry is providing livelihood to more than 25 million people in the country, the tobacco contribution to India’s GNP is about 10%.
Consuming tobacco is a fatal addiction and social problem, it keeps the health in hazard. The problem should be dealt with public awareness, anti smoking campaigns by government and other advocacy groups have not much influenced the tobacco farmers neither threaten to tobacco cultivation nor encourage them to leave the crop. But the FCTC regulations are simple forcing ban farmers from cultivating tobacco. Indian government never consulted and asked the tobacco farmers' opinion before ratifying the treaty in 2004, it's an autocratic decision. The Indian tobacco farmers were not against to our national tobacco control law like COTPA or any legislation which prohibits tobacco consumption, they do concern about public health but imposing FCTC regulations on tobacco farmers without consulting them is unacceptable, FCTC planned to force all the governments to keep the tobacco farming industry in jeopardy. Indian farmers are opposing several articles of the FCTC like 9 and 10 which are dealt with regulation, testing, measuring and disclosure of contents.
FCTC proposals will affect our tobacco farmers and industry, more than 30 million of Indians livelihood will be devastated. Especially in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, tobacco growing is the main source of livelihood for farmers and moreover India is the place where the tobacco grow year-around. AS per FCTC articles 17 and 18, the government should provide technical and financial aid assistance for economical transition to all stake holders whose livelihoods are seriously affected as a consequence of tobacco control programs, but after so many research and field trials they identified that it takes so many years. However, now the working group abandoned its original mandate and came out with new set of recommendations like restrict/stop all financial and technical support for tobacco farming; mandate the seasons when tobacco can and cannot be grown; limit, then reduce, the land area where tobacco can be grown, dismantling all tobacco governing bodies and reduce tobacco production. These irrational destructive proposals are going to be destroy the million lives of tobacco dependents by not offering economically viable alternative crops and livelihood.
I think the FCTC treaty is autocratic and imposed one, because the veto powered nation- United States of America haven't ratified the same and other large tobacco production countries like Argentina, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Indonesia were never signed the treaty. If India implements these guidelines, then non signed countries may dump their tobacco products ,they will increase their production and it may lead to contraband trading, then Indian tobacco farmers livelihood will be in trouble and the Indian economy will go down i.e. almost Rs.13,500 crore of excise revenue and Rs 4,160 crore of export revenue. I am not against to tobacco control, government is spending millions of tax payers' money towards public health and creating awareness on tobacco consumption risks but I request our Indian government to refuse these unreasonable, imposed FCTC proposals and think in a pragmatic approach to help tobacco farmers for their smooth economic livelihood transition.