Indian Parliament
A view of the parliament building, New Delhi.Reuters

More than 20 percent of India's female population consume tobacco, the Union government stated on Tuesday.

As per the findings of the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS), conducted by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (2010), 20.3 percent of females - 15 years and above - consume tobacco in some form or the other.

The use of smokeless forms of tobacco is more prevalent (18.4 percent) among females than smoking forms (2.9 percent), Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare Harsh Vardhan pointed out in Rajya Sabha.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) says that over half of all oral cancers in Asia are caused by tobacco.

Based on the data provided by the National Cancer Registry Programme, the estimated number of new cancer cases for 2035 is about 1.9 million, Harsh Vardhan said.

Quoting the data provided by Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), he stated that the mortality due to cancer cases is estimated to be 0.8 million for the year 2035 (as per Cancer incidence cases and Pooled Mortality to Incidence (M/I) ratio of Mumbai data (2009-2011) report).

The minister said that there is no central data available to ascertain the quantum of shortage of cancer specialists in the country.

However, to increase seats in super speciality courses in Medical Oncology, Surgical Oncology and broad speciality course in Radiotherapy, the ratio of number of Post-Graduate (PG) teachers to the number of students to be admitted has been now increased to 1:3 for a Professor subject to a maximum of 6 PG seats per unit per academic year, he added.

The minister explained about the steps taken by the government to discourage tobacco consumption among both males and females.

1. The Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Prohibitions of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Act," (COTPA), was enacted in 2003 to regulate consumption, production, supply and distribution of tobacco products, by imposing restrictions on advertisement, promotion and sponsorship of tobacco products; prohibiting smoking in public places; prohibiting sale to and by minors, prohibiting sale within a radius of 100 yards of educational institutions and through mandatory depiction of specified pictorial health warnings on all tobacco product packs.

2. Government of India launched the National Tobacco Control Programme (NTCP) in the year 2007-08, with the aim to (i) create awareness about the harmful effects of tobacco consumption, (ii) reduce the production and supply of tobacco products, (iii) ensure effective implementation of the provisions under "The Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Act, 2003" (COTPA) and (iv) help the people quit tobacco use through Tobacco Cessation Centres.

The coverage of National Tobacco Control Programme (NTCP) has been up-scaled from existing 42 districts of 21 states to 53 districts of 29 states in 2013-2014 under the umbrella of National Health Mission (NHM).

3. National Level Public Awareness campaign is a key activity under National Tobacco Control Programme (NTCP) which is aimed at educating people about the adverse health effects of tobacco use including second hand smoke and on pregnant women. A variety of media like electronic (Government and private Channels and FM/radio), outdoor billboards, bus panels, exterior train wrap-up, news-paper advertisement etc. have been used to reach a wide set of audience.

4. Health spots relating to harmful effects of tobacco use are displayed by films and TV Programmes displaying tobacco products or their use, as per the Rules notified under COTPA, 2003.

5. Gutkha and other similar food products containing nicotine and tobacco have been prohibited under the Food Safety and Standards (Prohibition and Restrictions on Sales) Regulations, 2011 dated 1st August 2011, issued under the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006.

6. The Union Minister of Health & Family Welfare has written to all the Chief Ministers to consider adopting a 'Comprehensive Taxation Policy' for all tobacco products so that they are taxed at similar rates and incentive to shift to relatively cheaper tobacco products is minimized. It has also been emphasized that under the policy, the tax rate should be linked to both inflation and changes in household income, so that any tax increase leads to an effective and 'real increase' in the price of tobacco products, making them less affordable over time and thereby reducing consumption & prevalence.

7. Further , Secretary, Department of Health & Family Welfare has vide letter dated 26th June, 2014 written to Secretary (Revenue) to adopt a 'Comprehensive Tax Policy' for tobacco products in the broader public health interest and with a view to protecting youth and children from getting addicted to tobacco use.