Working at Mumbai’s Tata Memorial Hospital, Head and Neck Cancer Surgeon Dr Pankaj Chaturvedi witnessed the suffering of patients with tobacco-caused cancers, firsthand. It made him realise that a change wasn’t possible unless the public realised the horrifying reality that he witnessed in the operating room.
Towards this end, his Voice of Tobacco Victims (VoTV) campaign mobilised victims and their doctors to confront India’s leaders and demand that they implement stricter tobacco control laws. The campaign has seen fruit as 23 of India’s 28 states and five of seven Union territories have now banned gutka, a cheaper form of tobacco that has 65 million users in India. The movement also led to an increase in tobacco tax in 20 states. Dr Chaturvedi’s efforts were recently lauded on a global platform when he was awarded the Judy Wilkenfeld Award for International Tobacco Control Excellence. Excerpts from the interview:
Do you believe that being awarded the Judy Wilkenfeld Award for International Tobacco Control Excellence will give a boost to the anti-tobacco movement in India?
I am extremely glad for the award. The credit is to the entire team who are working with me for the cause. It will inspire many more to work for tobacco control.
What made you start the campaign Voice of Tobacco Victims (VoTV) campaign; how has the response been?
VoTV is a campaign where patients are the advocates. Doctors support them with data and scientific content. Every day, I come across numerous patients who’ve been a victim of tobacco consumption. It strikes me that to bring about any change I need to use their voice in the right place, where it can be heard. In the past, patients were left out; they were never involved in any development agenda for tobacco control. That’s where VoTV stands apart from the rest.
What are the challenges that the anti-tobacco movement is up against in the 21st century?
The challenge is the tobacco industry lobby that dilutes our efforts for tobacco control. They have money, power and position to lobby with the interest groups. They falsify claims; use bidi workers or vendors as a soft tool to dilute effective policy. They violate standard norms and protocol as well as exploit the workers from the industry. Implementation of the law is difficult with multiple agencies involved and when there’s no clear sensitisation of the law to the enforcement agency.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
DR PANKAJ CHATURVEDI’S 3-POINT AGENDA
1. Participate in the VoTV campaign.
2. Ask the government for stricter implementation of laws.
3. Come together with one voice and tackle the menace of tobacco.
THE SMOKING TRUTH
> There are 274.9 million tobacco users in India, including 163.7 million users of smokeless tobacco, 68.9 million smokers, and 42.3 million users of both smoking and smokeless tobacco.
> More than one-third (35%) of adults in India use tobacco, among them 21% use only smokeless tobacco, 9% only smoke and 5% smoke as well as use smokeless tobacco.
> Tobacco use is highest among males at 48% and among females it is 20%.
> Nearly two in five (38%) adults in rural areas and one in four (25%) adults in urban areas use tobacco in some form.
> 24% of Indian males smoke whereas the prevalence among females is 3%.
Source: Global Adult Tobacco Survey