Indian smokers now taking tobacco firms to court
CALCUTTA: More and more smokers in India are taking tobacco companies to court for "not warning them early enough and strongly enough" about the ill-effects of smoking and chewing tobacco.
Their logic is simple: Most school or college students, they argue, buy loose cigarettes and not a whole packet when starting off. Therefore, carrying a statutory warning on each packet is clearly not enough, they argue. Moreover, with cigarette advertisements banned on television, potential smokers are getting access to the killer puff without being told, each time they open the TV set, that consuming tobacco can kill.
Thirty-three-year-old Ashish Banerjee for instance, (not his real name) was addicted to cigarettes. He smoked more than three packets a day and was known among friends as a 'chain smoker.'
Today, cancer has eaten away the insides of his mouth. Part of his tongue and the inside of his cheek has been sliced off to prevent the disease from spreading.
The sales officer in a Calcutta-based firm admits he made a 'grave error in judgment' as a college students, when he took up smoking to impress his friends. And he is determined to ensure that others do not follow in his footsteps. He has filed a petition in a local court, seeking a complete ban on the sale of cigarettes, pan masala and tobacco inside college premises and within 100 metres of schools.
"I was inspired by a man in Ahmedabad who took a well-known tobacco company to court after being diagnosed with cancer of the mouth. He can barely speak, but has been raising his voice against the sale of tobacco and pan masala in the market," he said.
"The government should compensate those suffering from cancer caused by tobacco. The statutory warning on tobacco pouches does not serve any purpose," he said, adding that the warning should clearly state that tobacco causes cancer instead of "beating around the bush".
But unlike in Gujarat where the court has admitted Vishrolia's petition and issued notices to the health, revenue and finance departments of the state government,
The West Bengal government seems the least bothered. Nowhere in the Writers' Buildings - the centre of state power - is smoking banned. From corridors to air-conditioned rooms, smokers abound every corridor. "It is difficult to impose a law banning smoking when so many ministers themselves are chain smokers", a state government employee working in the Writers' Buildings said on Sunday.
According to health minister Partha De, government offices should ban smoking within the complex to set an example. "We have already prohibited the sale of cigarettes in public places like railway stations, public vehicles, hospitals and schools. We also plan to impose a ban on selling tobacco in cultural complexes," he said.
A survey conducted by an international tobacco control network says 92 per cent of children in India consume tobacco. An estimated 600,000 people die every year in India because of cancer-related diseases, it adds. "Indians are learning the hard way that whoever told them they needed a cigarette in their hand to feel like a man, was lying," the survey report noted.