* Fate of 45.7 million Indians under threat
New Delhi, 7th November, 2016: India is playing host to the Seventh Session of the Conference of Parties (COP7) of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) which begins today in Greater Noida. The Conference will reportedly be attended by representatives of the FCTC signatory countries, NGOs, anti-tobacco activists and others who will deliberate over future tobacco control policies and regulations that countries should adopt.
It is unfortunate that the Industry stakeholders and tobacco farmers whose livelihood will be affected by the decisions at this conference have not been allowed to participate in the conference.
It is disappointing that the WHO and the Indian Government did not respond to the pleas of the Industry stakeholders and Tobacco farming community seeking participation in the COP7 meeting. Participation of stakeholders is essential to ensure that the farmer and Industry view point on various issues arising out of the COP7 Agenda is taken cognizance of and no unilateral and discriminatory one-sided decision is taken by the Parties to the Conference.
Speaking on the occasion, Mr. Syed Mahmood Ahmad said, “We are concerned tobacco control activists and NGOs, who will have unhindered access to the conference, continue to wage a relentless campaign to influence Tobacco Control Policies in the country and promote a false propaganda that the Indian Government is obligated under the FCTC to implement provisions of the FCTC and introduce further regulations in the country which are excessive in nature and inimical to tobacco cultivation and the tobacco farming community.”
The FCTC allows National Governments to consider their local conditions and domestic priorities while adopting measures recommended by it. In fact, FCTC ratification by any country does not create legal obligations on national governments.
Anti-tobacco NGOs funded by vested interests are putting pressure on the policy makers to pursue an agenda guided by false propaganda. These anti-tobacco NGOs are also approaching courts and seeking extreme and unreasonable regulations which threaten the livelihood of millions of Indians dependent on tobacco, under the garb of implementation of FCTC measures. These NGOs lack real world knowledge of tobacco growing and promote arbitrary measures that have very adverse social and economic consequences for the country.
The operating Tobacco Control law in India is The Cigarettes and other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Act 2003 (COTPA) and all regulations in this regard must be within the purview and framework of this Act of the Indian Parliament.
In many cases the FCTC has departed from its original mandate and taken a turn towards the extreme which have very tangible real life implications for the entire Tobacco Industry value chain including farmers and others dependent on tobacco for their livelihood.
Indian Policymakers should be concerned of the enormous socio-economic benefits that accrue from tobacco and the livelihood dependency of 45.7 million people including farmers, farm workers, small self-employed retailers, tendu leaf pluckers, rural poor, women, tribals etc. on the crop while deliberating up on various regulatory measures at COP7.
It is surprising that unlike other tobacco growing countries, the Indian Government is ignoring the huge livelihood dependency on tobacco cultivation in the country despite the fact that compared to these countries livelihood dependence is much higher in India. Tobacco growing countries such as Malawi, Zambia etc. have committed themselves to support tobacco farming as it is critical in contributing to country’s economic development.
The Minister for Agriculture of Zambia, Ms. Dora Siliya, on Oct 28th stated, “As government, we appreciate the economic value which comes with growing tobacco, a significant number of people are dependent on tobacco for their livelihood. This makes tobacco a strategic cash crop for our economy. And as government, we will ensure that benefits that come from growing this crop are not ignored by the development of laws that hinder the growth of the sub-sector and, consequently, the industry as a whole.”
Minister for Agriculture of Malawi, Mr. George Chaponda has said, “Malawi cannot stop growing tobacco overnight and will continue growing leaf… it is the backbone of the economy”.
It is also important to mention that the world’s largest tobacco growing and consuming country, China, despite being Party to FCTC, has taken a much more balanced and reasonable approach towards tobacco control regulations in order to safeguard the interests of millions who depend on tobacco for livelihood and the economic benefits it derives from the tobacco sector.
The Indian Government should be cautious and not get influenced by the propaganda of the international NGOs seeking unreasonable regulations and should instead promote a balanced approach towards tobacco control regulations at the Conference. India should also ensure that unreasonable and impractical proposals and guidelines which will cause devastating impact on tobacco farmers and millions of others who are dependent on tobacco for their livelihood are not adopted by the FCTC at COP7.