New Delhi: Even as activists wer up in arms over reports that the Centre's proposed move to ban sale of loose cigarettes is likely to be put on hold, a cancer survivor has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi hoping for strong initiatives to reduce smoking among people.  

A former Customs Commissioner from Mumbai, who lost speech and a part of his tongue due to throat cancer after prolong tobacco use, has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, seeking ban on loose cigarettes. 

"After having smoked cigarettes made attractive by constant advertising and inciting slogans... I was detected with throat cancer in 2008. It resulted in removal of my voice box and now I speak with the help of a prosthesis (machine). "Eating and speaking has become a challenge. I suffered yet another cancer of the tongue in 2013 resulting in partial removal of my tongue," Deepak Kumar said in the letter.

"It can be thus well imagined that my life has become virtual hell. I never wanted any other person to have the same fate, which was the reason for my joy on learning that sale of loose cigarettes is going to be banned and loop holes in COTPA are going to be plugged by amendment," he said. Kumar said he had filed a case in Consumer Court for compensation from the cigarette company but he lost it as he failed to produce bills for cigarettes he had purchased.

"Can you imagine any person being issued with bills for sale of loose cigarettes by the vendors. Therefore, if at all loose cigarettes are to be sold then issuance of sale billsmust be made mandatory for loose as well as packets of cigarettes," the letter said. Kumar also reminded the Prime Minister of his tweet on May 31, when he had called for a healthier and Tobacco Free India.

A Health Ministry proposal to ban sale of loosecigarettes is likely to be put on hold following objections by some MPs, including some Union ministers, and farmers associations. "It is, therefore, prayed that the honourable Prime Minister kindly reconsider rethinking on proposed curbs on sale and consumption of tobacco and implement it with full vigour.

"It is our desire that the government takes steps to make India tobacco free. It will not only save lives but also saveenough money spent in health care and loss of economic activity to compensate for the loss of government revenue. Surely the government does not want to earn revenue by allowing its citizens to be killed..." Kumar said. Civil society organisations and tobacco control activists have strongly decried the proposed move by the government. "It appears that government is willing to endure health care loss of Rs 1,04,500 crores to earn 6,000 crore from export of tobacco.

"The total cost of treating 3 major tobacco related diseases is several times more, and there can be no doubt that the industry is using every trick in the book to blackmail the government," said Bhavna Mukhopadhyay, Executive Director of Voluntary Health Association of India (VHAI). The sale of loose cigarettes is banned under the existingprovisions of COTPA, 2003. The amendment merely tries to clearly mention it to remove ambiguity. However, if you interpret the existing provisions of COTPA, the sale of loose cigarette is banned, she said. This had been the stand of the government before courts and also part of court orders.