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NGOs form anti tobacco coalition

India remains the second highest country in terms of tobacco consumption. This is despite a reduction in the last decade. Alarming figures such as the overwhelming rate of tobacco consumption in states such as Mizoram, in which 80.4 percent of men consume tobacco products, have long concerned health agencies.

To mark International No Tobacco Day on May 31st, a large group of Indian non-government organisations (NGOs) announce a new coalition against tobacco, alongside prominent Indian personalities. The event on tobacco as a threat to development in India was supported by the Tata Memorial Hospital, Over 40 NGOs pledged support for reducing the prevalence of tobacco in India.

The member list of NGOs is extensive, containing the names of some of the world’s leaders in the push for global healthcare as well as Indian health groups and hospitals. Notable members are:

  • World Health Organization (WHO)
  • ACI India
  • Action Council Against Tobacco, India (ACT India)
  • Anay Foundation
  • Cancer Patient Aid Association
  • Cipla Foundation
  • Fortis Hospital, Gurugram
  • Indian Academy of Oral Oncology
  • Indian Cancer Society
  • Indian Dental Association
  • Jamaat -e- Islami Hind Organization
  • Kripa Foundation
  • Max Hospital, Delhi
  • National Addiction Research Center
  • Public Health Department, Government of Maharashtra
  • Tata Memorial Hospital
  • Tata Trusts

The full list of organisations involved includes over 40 members, with groups ranging from child education bodies  and university departments to global charities.

North-east India shows the highest prevalence of tobacco use, with percentages of those who use tobacco products exceeding 70 percent in many states. Cancer rates in these states are often double the national average, with 112 men and 60 women of 1,000 dying of cancer, compared to the national average of 47 for men and 44 for women, according to data from the 2012 Million Death Study published in The Lancet.

The Coalition Against Tobacco views excessive smoking as one of the primary health risks affecting global development. In India, heart attacks, lung disease and strokes collectively account for one third of deaths. Smoking increases the risk of all three. India is a country which is increasingly feeling the burden of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), which make up 53 percent of its disease burden. As such, any measure to lessen the rate of risk factors, such as smoking, could be a boon for public health.

Amongst the aims of the Coalition to address the tobacco situation in India are the creation of a platform that would allow for better collaboration between NGOs and government organisations at every level. Using this collaborative approach they hope to take the messages to the Indian public through media presence, hoping for support from celebrities and media personalities.

Almost a million Indians a year die prematurely because of tobacco, said  Dr. Vijay Satbir Singh, ACS Public Health Department, notes that tobacco is widely available, even to those with little money “Tobacco is one of the major causes of death and disease in India….a plethora of tobacco products are available at very low prices. This needs to change.”   Tackling tobacco’s low cost could be a way to reduce its prevalence. Education about the effects of its use is also a method the coalition aim to employ.

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