Chennai, Apr 3: Dismissing arguments against increasing the size of pictorial warnings on cigarette packets as being 'ignorant' and 'foolish', NDA ally PMK today urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to give directions to ensure it is increased to 85 per cent as scheduled earlier.
"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," PMK founder leader and former Union Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss told reporters here.
The Health Ministry has put in abeyance the move to increase pictorial warning in tobacco products to 85 per cent effective April 1. Ramadoss noted that an MP had stated that there are no studies to link tobacco use leads to 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."
Stating that the tobacco industry's market size was only Rs 40,000 crore, he said the expenditure to tackle tobacco caused diseases were of Rs.1,15,000 crore "So what and where is the benefit in growing or using tobacco? he asked and suggested that tobacco farmers opt for alternative crops. He alleged government had not taken any efforts to bring such new crop options for tobacco rots.
On the recommendation of a Parliamentary panel to put the move on hold, he said there was no need to abide by its advice as it was just recommendatory. He 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.
Terming the tobacco lobby as one of the most powerful,he alleged it 'instigated' employees to speak against such proposed rules, claiming that "it would hurt the employees in tobacco growing and beedi manufacturing firms." "I was myself a victim of this lobby," he said.