A Members' Feature.
In the midst of India’s slow-burning battle to introduce larger graphic health warnings on tobacco packs, Mira Aghi’s persistent work on the ground is making a real difference.
In May this year Aghi was interviewed for the Daily Post India, where she said in no uncertain terms that the reason for the government’s reticence to implement life-saving tobacco control policy is because ‘they do not want to displease the tobacco industry or thwart their progress.’
After announcing that the size of images illustrating the health impacts of tobacco use would be quadrupled to cover 85 percent of the surface area of tobacco packs, the government has delayed implementation for 12 months so far – a direct result of tobacco industry lobbying.
Aghi has consistently spoken out against interference from Big Tobacco, which she says is one of the smartest industries in the world. ‘We have come a long way to protect health by introducing high impact tobacco control laws, but we need to look at the figures - tobacco-related mortality rates are still going up.’ She said the government had introduced good legislation, but now needed to enforce it with the full cooperation of all departments.
As well as publicly calling the government to account, Aghi has been instrumental in offering the support needed by politicians and civil servants to turn the situation around.
In July, Aghi chaired an in-depth training workshop with The Union for policymakers on the World Health Organization's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control [WHO FCTC] measures required to prevent tobacco industry interference: Article 5.3. Because it requires a whole of government approach to be effective, Article 5.3 is one of the hardest parts of the treaty to implement. Following this training session, the Government of Punjab became the first Indian state to create a committee empowered to proactively protect public health policy from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry.
Aghi said: ‘The WHO FCTC was ratified by the government as a whole in 2004, not only by the Ministry of Health. Therefore all sectors like trade and commerce, finance and agriculture should be working together to ensure all its provisions are implemented. It is encouraging that the Punjab is now tackling tobacco industry interference head on as lobbying can delay and obstruct all our other work.’
Aghi’s multi-pronged approach to tobacco control is making tangible changes across the board: calling the government to account, raising awareness about the harms of tobacco use on health, and changing policy.
‘Many people in India are still ignorant about the harms of tobacco, not only on health, but on the economy and families. It impacts the whole social fabric,’ she said.
Mira Aghi steps up to become The Union’s Vice Chair for the tobacco control section members later this year.
The Union offers comprehensive training on Article 5.3 as well as an Article 5.3 Toolkit – covering the key legislative and policy elements of a strategy to safeguard laws and policies from tobacco industry interference.