Meet Sunita. This 27-year-old, whose face is disfigured by oral cancer, is today a symbol of tobacco victimhood. Like hundreds of thousands of tobacco users in India she has seen her whole family ruined because of her four-year habit of chewing the deadly material that came in two-rupee pouches. Sunita, who is a mother of two from a small town in Madhya Pradesh, has survived, but only for now. Her doctor says there is a 50 percent possibility of the disease recurring. And if that happens, chances of survival are remote. Today, she struggles through life with part of her face gone, and suffers pain whenever she tries to eat and drink.
Together with members of her traumatised family, Sunita is ready to share with the world of tobacco victims her agonising story. The only message she has is –stay away from all types of tobacco. “Nobody should suffer what I have suffered”, she implores.
The Ministry of Health, Government of India, on Thursday unfurled “Sunita”, a testimonial campaign highlighting the devastating effect of smokeless tobacco (‘gutka’, ‘zarda’, ‘khaini’,etc.) especially on women. A resource website,http://ntcptobaccocontrolpsa.inhosting health spots and tobacco use disclaimers in high resolution for use in films and TV shows, was also inaugurated. Sunita’sstory has been made into a 30-second film which is included in the website and will also be screened in cinema theatres across India as well as on government and private TV channels. The website has been developed by the Ministry with technical assistance from World Lung Foundation. It will be a repository of anti-tobacco health spots. All film producers, TV programmers and cinema theatre owners will be able to download the spots and HD disclaimers as mandated in the Control of Tobacco Products Act (COTPA) Rules regulating depiction of tobacco products or in their use in films and TV programmes.
Dr Harsh Vardhan, Union Health Minister, who inaugurated the website, announced that the Ministry is planning to set up modern cancer hospitals all over India. It is also working to strengthening legal controls on tobacco distribution. The Minister said that the first Budget of ShriNarendraModi government effected a 61 percent hike in tax rates on cigarettes. “Just the enhanced revenue which will flow in would be enough to fund 12 new AIIMS in the country,” Dr Harsh Vardhan remarked. The Ministry of Health has already formed two committees to recommend measures on how to address the social and legal aspects of the war against tobacco use which it has launched. “This should not remain a government agenda. I would like to involve social groups and civil society. The fight will be long and arduous, but we should not lose hope,” Dr Harsh Vardhan added.