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Not temporarily but permanently firewall public health from industry interference

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We call upon the Prime Minister of India to permanently firewall public health policy making from tobacco industry interference. If Indian government adapts the conflict of interest clause on lines of the global tobacco treaty's (WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control - FCTC) Article 5.3 to complement domestic health laws in India, then it is possible to safeguard public health from industry interference - permanently. If we do not adapt measures nationally on lines of WHO FCTC Article 5.3 then removal of Members of Parliament (MPs) who have a conflict of interest from parliamentary committees will be a one time event - with high risk of repetition. It will be prudent and wise to take into account the high degree of industry interference that occurred recently, and firewall policy making from any such attempts of industry to thwart people's causes.

Public health is also unduly influenced by other industries such as those of food, drugs and vaccine, and by international agencies who represent these industries. This influence too must end. Public health is too important a subject to be left at the mercy of corporate interests.

Background

The Prime Minister said that he does not want BJP MPs with conflict of interest as members of parliamentary committees (Huffington Post, 5th April 2015). He said this because India witnessed unprecedented levels of tobacco industry interference in public health policy making recently when Parliamentary Committee on Subordinate Legislation members lobbied to protect industry interests over public health.

Members of Parliament (MPs) who were part of this committee looking into tobacco control measures asked the government not to implement stronger pictorial graphic health warnings on all tobacco packs (to cover 85% of display area). Dilip Kumar Mansukh Gandhi, Chair of this committee and BJP MP, said tobacco does not cause cancer. Beedi industry founder Shyama Charan Gupta who is also a BJP MP and member of this committee said Beedi does not cause cancer. Another member of this committee and BJP MP Ram Prasad Sarmah said that there is no proof or evidence linking tobacco with cancer. Members of this committee wrongly argued that there is no reliable data from within the country on tobacco related health hazards and asked for more studies to be done. This is indeed not true because plethora of scientific evidence exists within our country linking tobacco use in any form, to life-threatening diseases and disabilities. For example, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare of Government of India had come up with a strong beedi monograph in 2008 (Public Health and Bidi Smoking). Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) too has a long list of scientifically studies done in India underlining deadly tobacco-related health hazards.

WHO FCTC Article 5.3

This Article 5.3 of the global tobacco treaty recognizes that there is a direct and irreconcilable - fundamental conflict of interest - between public health policy and tobacco industry. The WHO FCTC Article 5.3 guidelines were adapted by countries who have ratified the treaty in November 2008 (including India). The Article 5.3 of the FCTC requires all Parties (including India) when setting and implementing their public health policies with respect to tobacco control, to: ".. act to protect these policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry in accordance with national law."

Act long-term

We recognize and commend Indian Prime Minister's intent to remove MPs with conflict of interests from parliamentary committees, however we request him and other parliamentarians to act long-term and adapt policy on lines of WHO FCTC Article 5.3 so that public health policy making gets firewalled from tobacco industry interference permanently.

We also appeal to the government of India to firewall public health from interference by other corporations such as those of food, drugs, vaccine, and their allied agencies.

Thanks

Vote For Health campaign, Asha Parivar, National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM), Citizen News Service (CNS), and others

For more information, please contact: Bobby Ramakant, member of Network for Accountability of Tobacco Transnationals (NATT) | Twitter: @bobbyramakant, email: bobbyramakant@yahoo.com



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