Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said Saturday that getting people to quit smoking will not impoverish farmers in tobacco growing regions but will rather help them earn more and free themselves from the clutches of money lenders.In a statement, Vardhan said the ministry is willing to share with the government and all concerned groups the findings of scientific research conducted by reputed institutions which unambiguously proves that viable alternatives to tobacco cultivation exist."We have carried out pilot projects on alternative cropping systems to tobacco which we are willing to share with tobacco growing states. It will be proved that farmers will get better incomes from cultivating sugarcane, a variety of vegetables, pepper, fruits and mustard on the lands presently taken up by tobacco," said Vardhan.
The minister also said that though the additional earning to the exchequer from tobacco is significant, the economic cost of smoking is far greater."There are people who argue that India earns more than $500 million per year through tobacco exports. To them I say, look at the net economic cost. The WHO has estimated that in India it amounts to $ 1.7 billion. This cannot be tolerated any longer," he added.The World Health Organisation (WHO) has estimated that the direct medical cost of treating tobacco related diseases in India amounts to $907 million for smoked tobacco and $285 million for smokeless tobacco, said the statement.The minister said that a multi-disciplinary drive against tobacco is being considered by his ministry because the overarching objective of saving thousands of lives may not be entirely achieved by simply taxing tobacco consumers.