Chennai, Apr 3: Former Union Health Minister and PMK leader Anbumani Ramadoss, an NDA ally, on Friday candidly said he had been a "victim" of the tobacco lobby and sought Prime Minister Narendra Modi's intervention for increasing the size of pictorial warnings on tobacco products to 85 per cent as planned earlier.
The NDA government's decision to increase pictorial warnings on packets of tobacco products to 85 per cent from the existing 40 per cent space from April 1, which earned India international acclaim, has been put on hold indefinitely.
Ramadoss dismissed arguments against increasing the size of pictorial warnings on cigarette packets as being 'ignorant' and 'foolish'.
"It is high time the Prime Minister intervened. I appeal to him to order the Health Ministry to increase pictorial warning to 85 per cent immediately," the PMK founder leader told reporters here.
Terming the tobacco lobby as one of the most powerful, he alleged it 'instigated' employees to speak against such proposed rules on the ground that they would "hurt" the employees in tobacco growing and beedi manufacturing firms.
"I was myself a victim of this lobby," he said without elaborating. Ramadoss was the Health Minister in the Manmohan Singh Cabinet from May, 2004 till he resigned his post in April 2009.
He also took note of the statements of an MP who stated that there are no studies in India to link tobacco use with cancer, to which another Parliamentarian had said that by using the same logic, sugar should be banned.
BJP MP and chairman of a parliamentary panel Dilip Gandhi had said there were "no India-specific studies" to link cancer to tobacco use, while party MP Shyama Charan Gupta had said that "sugar causes diabetes" and it should be banned by the same logic.
Ramadoss said both these were ignorant and foolish utterances without any scientific basis and said the Centre should stop it "as the country should not be put to shame."
He noted that globally acclaimed institutions, including the Indian Council of Medical Research, had done hundreds of studies linking tobacco use to not just cancer, but to diseases related to kidney, lungs and brain as well.
He alleged that people were apprehensive of a "collusion between health ministry and tobacco lobby." On the recommendation of a Parliamentary panel to put the move on pictorial warnings on hold, he said there was no need to abide by its advice as it was just recommendatory.
Ramadoss also wondered why this has been done now when only in 2013 a Parliamentary panel had suggested increasing the warning size to 90 per cent. "We are now moving in the opposite direction, it is painful."
"This is a public health issue and when one million people die of tobacco-related diseases every year, it is the responsibility of a responsive government to bring out this warning to save people using it," he said, adding India is a signatory to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.
Stating that the tobacco industry's market size was only Rs 40,000 crore, he said the expenditure to tackle tobacco- related diseases were of the order of Rs 1,15,000 crore.