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Tobacco – An Epidemic

When the pandemic started back in 2020, people were aversive to what was becoming a huge issue. Throughout the first, second, and third wave, the whole wide world saw millions of deaths, owning to a virus that with its inception was declared to be a major threat. Soon after the pandemic became cold, we saw world war threats, one of which culminated into the Ukraine-Russia war, and now what could be the Taiwan-China war. All these threats turned out to be deadly killers with apparent effects, however, what we often fail to notice is the silent killer that lurks around us and has been claiming millions of lives each year. It’s tobacco. It kills about 8 million people each year, 7 million of those occurring from direct consumption while the one million is caused by indirect consumption. Its recognition as an epidemic has given a point of consensus over curbing its advertisements trying to discourage the consumers from not using it, trying to deflect it from the public conscience, curbing the retailers from selling it, altering its packaging, and establishing norms for its representation in movies and shows which often romanticize its usage and makes it look cool to the younger generation. Companies selling these tobacco products- Malabaro, PMI and BAT- while simultaneously killing millions have adopted a number of philanthropic works in order to improve their image. Most countries find it hard to completely restrict these companies, largely because of the huge amount of FDI that comes with investments and revenue that is generated with its sale. India alone earns 356 billion from the sale of tobacco.

India recognized the epidemic very early on, bringing in the Cinematography act of 1956 that prohibited the “glamorization of tobacco usage”, and the Cable television Network Act of 1995 that put a ban on direct and indirect promotions and advertising of Cigarettes, tobacco products, and liquor. Under the global initiative of WHO- Framework Convention on Tobacco Control- India designed a full-fledged legislation-COPTA, 2003- that put heavy restrictions on TAPS (Tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship), making it liable to compensation and even jail. However, with each step of modernity and illicit trade that came along with globalization, new ways were discovered by these tobacco companies to expand their commerce, that was- Surrogate product- advertising of the restricted product by advertising an unrestricted product that does not exist in the market. These advertisements come in form of some storyline or a good tagline that attracts the attention of the public and appeal to their emotions. McDowell’s “No. 1 yaari” is the best example of it. These strategies kept them in touch with the youngsters who were in a way renewals of their deceased customers. However, to put a stop to it new guidelines were issued by the government that distinguished between genuine and fake ones. The Indian government has also tried to fill the loopholes that have come up with time in the COPTA Act of 2003, with a series of amendments that are yet to be passed.

It should still be known that putting efforts to stop billions of people from using tobacco products is a waste of energy and resources, it’s better to get a hold of major suppliers, and end the monopoly of these companies that have a hold over the population and the economy. On this front, one of the prime inspirations can be New Zealand, which with its series of amendments to Smoke-Free Environment act of 1990 has envisioned a country where the upcoming population doesn’t even have an idea what tobacco is. With each successive amendment, there have been much stricter guidelines that prohibited even the visibility of tobacco products from outside a retail shop, increased the number of smoke-free areas, and increased the age limit. Cut to 2022, New Zealand tables another amendment that prohibits the selling of tobacco products to anyone born after 2009 and reduces the number of shops that can sell tobacco products from 90 to 95 percent.

New Zealand as a developed country with its liberal approach was capable enough to take this step, but in India, it's a vicious cycle of problems. Tobacco companies are a major source of employment for rural women which could be hampered to a great level if these companies are legislated to go out of business. These tobacco companies also take a prime position in funding any noble social cause, funding disaster relief during floods, earthquakes, or droughts. Even during the covid pandemic, overall Indian Tobacco industry committed about US$36.7 million in donations to the PM Care Funds, with the ITC (British American Tobacco’s Indian Affiliate) being the biggest contributor. ITC partnered with various governmental agencies in establishing temporary healthcare centers for covid-19 and distributing refreshments to the health workers. All these initiatives were welcomed and hailed, helping them establish their brand better.

It’s a long and tedious commitment to bring about a change in this situation of an epidemic that cannot be easily dealt with just by the Ministry of Health until the Ministry of labour & employment, Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Ministry of Commerce

and Industries are involved and work together to bring an end to this. The future rests on the collaboration and cooperation of these ministries working together for the future of the upcoming generation.