India is a host to the global conference on tobacco control for the first time in history. More than 2,400 delegates from across the world will convene to deliberate on different aspects of tobacco control. Also it is after a span of 12 years that the world conference on tobacco control is being held in a developing country. The 14th World Conference on Tobacco Or Health (WCTOH) is going to take place in Mumbai from 8th to 12th March 2009. The theme for this year's conference is 'Global Tobacco Control: Multi Sectoral Approach To Tobacco Control—Policies, Pathways, Partners and People'.
The hosts for this conference are Salaam Bombay Foundation, ACT India, Healis Sekhsaria Institute for Public Health, Health Department of Maharashtra Government, Indian Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and The Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco consumption. The World Health Organization is the technical sponsor for the conference and will actively facilitate discussion and implementation of successful tobacco control strategies.
It has come to a developing nation after 12 years, at a very opportune time when tobacco industry giants are busy establishing a foothold in the developing world. Multinational tobacco companies are presently engaged in an aggressive campaign to capture and convert India's 250 million tobacco users, especially the youngsters.
India ranks second in the world, after China, in the consumption of tobacco products. About 230 million men and 11.9 million women consume tobacco in India . 17.3% males and 9.7% females in the age group of 13-15 years are smokers. The corresponding percentage in the 18-49 years group is 32.7 for males and 1.4 for females. A large number of youngsters are increasingly becoming addicted to smoking and chewing of paan masala and gutkha, with about 5 million Indian children below the age of 15 years being addicted to smoking. Tobacco consumption is growing in India at an alarming rate of 5-7% annually. It is the cause of 800,000 thousand deaths every year and is estimated to kill 1 million people annually from 2010---being responsible for one in five of all male deaths and one in twenty of all female deaths in the age group 30 to 69 years. Thus, India 's future generation is at a grave risk and there is need to tackle the threat posed by tobacco consumption on a war footing.
According to a recent study conducted jointly by the American Cancer Society and World Lung Foundation, the use of tobacco drains around 350 billion rupees from the Indian economy in the form of health care costs and productivity losses. So there is an urgent need to frame a long term and clear cut programme to phase out tobacco, not only from India , but from the entire world.
We are fortunate to have a proactive health ministry headed by Dr. Anbumani Ramadoss, who has achieved successes on many fronts in implementing the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act (2003) and is appealing to the cine stars who are generally role models for the youngsters to refrain from smoking in films, (and not send wrong signals to the youth). Yet, laws alone cannot rid us of this menace. A change in the attitude and will of people is of paramount importance. We need to build a new generation of anti tobacco advocates across the world to carry on the anti tobacco advocacy movement with renewed vigour.
This conference is going to provide an extraordinary opportunity to a diverse assemblage of tobacco control advocates, educators, policy makers, civil society members and scientists from all over the world to interact with each other. It will surely go a long way in advancing tobacco control in developing countries and providing a global perspective on tobacco control issues.
(The author is the Editor of Citizen News Service (CNS) and also teaches physics at Loreto Convent. Email: [email protected], website: www.citizen-news.org)