By Vidya Venkataraman
May 26, Bangalore: A code of conduct to guide government officials’ interactions with the tobacco industry was recently drafted. The code was formulated by Bangalore based NGO Institute of Public health (IPH) and submitted to the Karnataka High Court in February following a Public Interest Litigation (PIL).
The PIL – petitioned by IPH – was to challenge the Tobacco Board of India’s (TBI) sponsorship of a tobacco trade event in the city. In October 2010, the TBI – a government entity under the Ministry of Industry and Commerce – was the sponsor of the Global Tobacco Networking Forum (GTNF). IPH, with the help of lawyers from the Lawyers’ Collective, challenged this sponsorship in the Karnataka High Court, as it violated national and international laws. An order to withdraw all forms of sponsorship was passed, just prior to the event.
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A prayer sought by the petitioners was the formulation and implementation of a Code of Conduct to restrict and regulate similar interactions in the future. The court accepted the code drafted by the petitioners and urged the Union of India to consider it while formulating the code proper.
Dr Upendra Bhojani, faculty at the Institute of Public Health, spoke on the need for such a code, “It was a great victory to have the court order withdraw the sponsorship. But this code is necessary to see that this doesn’t happen again in the future. Sponsorship by the government takes many forms. The GTNF issue was just the visible tip of the iceberg.”
A simple search of the balance sheets of Indian tobacco companies will reveal that state and central governments have direct shareholdings in tobacco companies – ITC and Godfrey Phillips India. Government owned companies account for six out of 10 shareholders in the Indian Tobacco Company Ltd. (ITC).
In 2003, India enacted a national legislation called the COTPA or the Cigarette and Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of advertisement and regulation of trade and commerce, production, supply and distribution) Act, 2003. In 2004, India was among the first countries to fully ratify the FCTC. And in 2007, the Union Ministry launched a national program on tobacco control. The Indian Tobacco Board was established in and operates under the Tobacco Board Act, 1975.
“In spite of more recent – contradicting laws – the mandate of the Tobacco Board remains unchanged”, said Jayna Kothari, Partner, Ashira Law and Founder,
Centre for Law and policy Research, Bangalore.
The theme of World No Tobacco Day, 2011, is the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) – one of its recommendations is the drafting of such a code of conduct.
Dr Bhojani said, “This sort of nexus between the government and industry is very detrimental to the government’s efforts as it opposes the commendable steps taken in tobacco control. However, once this code is adopted, not only will a protocol be in place, but the government will have another feather in its cap towards tobacco control.”
– Dr Upendra Bhojani is a faculty and Ph.D scholar at the Institute of Public Health, Bangalore. He has been actively involved in projects related to tobacco control for the last seven years.