My Speech in United Nations

My speech as Civic Society representative in UN-NCD Summit in New York on 19th September, 2011

I am a cancer surgeon in a government hospital in Mumbai, India. Eighty percent of the cancers of my specialty are related to tobacco and 50% of the newly diagnosed patients they die within 12 months and most of them are young or middle age. There is nothing more urgent than Tobacco Control. 

At current rate tobacco will kill one billion in this century. In true sense it is a Weapon of Mass destruction that warrants an international coalition against tobaccoism. The war on cancer cannot be won unless we conquer tobacco. If I have to summaries 3 steps to end major bulk of NCDs – 1) Eradicate Tobacco 2) eliminate tobacco 3) Ensure 1 and 2.

The civic society is very skeptical about the outcome of this exercise. They are justified in being nihilistic.  Tobacco continues to laugh on our face despite 2 US Surgeon general report, 3 WHO monographs, 14 world congresses, hundreds of meetings, thousands of publications and the famous Framework convention on Tobacco control. If we want this resolution to work, we need to give it teeth and claws or an in built mechanism of reward of reprimand. In the absence of that, I am sad to say, this entire billion dollar exercise is going to make minor difference.

There is no readymade formula for tobacco control because every country has unique situation and they need to find their unique solution. For example, the western concept of “smoke free workplace or public place” is of limited relevance to India where smokeless tobacco is the major problem.  I feel proud to say that Indian railway, world’s largest passenger carrier and the second largest employer will become tobacco free soon.

In low and middle income countries making of tobacco control laws is easy but their effective implementation is a mammoth task. We have discovered many novel ways these tobacco laws can be effectively implemented. A society cannot be civilized if it cannot protect its children. We need to stop the sinister advertizing and marketing campaigns of Tobacco companies in targeting our kids.

What is lacking today in tobacco control is not scientific evidence…..what is missing is the firm political commitment. A Head of the state alone can do in just 10 seconds what 10 years of intense campaign with millions might achieve.  A President or Prime Minister only needs a pen and sign a declaration on comprehensive tobacco and alcohol control… takes less than 10 seconds.

Let us accept that tobacco has got no usage whatsoever except killing half of it users. I would sincerely urge every country leader present here to pledge to eradicate tobacco …..tomorrow it can affect their own children and grand children.

To watch the video –

In the coveted hall of United Nations for the above speech.

Published by Prof Pankaj Chaturvedi

Deputy Director, Center for Cancer Epidemiology, Tata Memorial Center, Mumbai. Professor, Department of Head Neck Surgery, Tata Memorial Hospital, Mumbai

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