New Delhi: The tobacco lobby has managed to have its way in India, at least for the time being. Smokers in India are unlikely to see an increase in the size of pictorial warnings on cigarette packets any time soon after the anti-tobacco campaign hit a major road block with a Bharatiya Janata Party MP said the country cannot rely on surveys done abroad that link tobacco to cancer.
April 1 could have been a historic day as India was all set to take a major initiative to dissuade smoking by making 85 per cent pictorial warning mandatory on cigarette packs but it's clearly going to miss the deadline now.
A Parliamentary Committee has recommended more discussion on the matter.
BJP MP Dilip Kumar Gandhi said, "We felt that we do not have a survey that was done in our country. We are acting based on the survey done in another country."
The Parliamentary Committee which Gandhi, a BJP MP from Maharashtra heads, had "strongly" urged the government to keep on hold its proposal to increase the size of pictorial warnings on tobacco packets from 40 per cent to 85 per cent.
"All agree on the harmful effects of tobacco. But there is no Indian survey report to prove that tobacco consumption leads to cancer. All the studies are done abroad. Cancer does not happen only because of tobacco. We have to study the Indian context, as four crore people in states like Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh are dependent on bidi-making through Tendu patta (Tendu leaves)," Gandhi said.
The statement sparked sharp reactions from all quarters.
Disapproving Gandhi's remarks, Union Minister Prakash Javadekar said, "Do not listen to these things. Science is science. You cannot compromise on science."
Director Of Healies Institute Of Public Health Dr Prakash C Gupta said, "This is like saying that earth isn't round. How can you say it's not linked?"
Congress General Secretary Digvijaya Singh demanded a probe to find out whether there was any connection between BJP and cigarette manufacturers.
"One has to do some research on the connection between BJP and cigarette, gutka manufacturers. Then only we will find an answer," Singh said.
NCP MP Supriya Sule expressed her "shock" at the remarks and termed it as "unfortunate". "I am not alarmed but I am shocked anybody can make a statement like that. It is very unfortunate. Maybe he is misinformed or misled by somebody," she said.
Amidst growing outage, Health Minister JP Nadda was forced to step in. He said, "The Health Ministry sticks to its stand and this is a crucial matter."
The government's decision if applied would have made India one of the five countries in the world which have the maximum pictorial warning but now the government's dilly dallying on the decision has drawn sharp criticism.
(With additional information from PTI)