Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature Non-Communicable Diseases

Will industry influence derail UN summit?

BMJ 2011; 343 doi: (Published 23 August 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d5328

UN Summit on Non Communicable Diseases - Too late and too little

Harmful effects of Tobacco and Alcohol were known to the ancient
Hindus 6000 years back. Two modern religions (Islam and Christianity)
started nearly 2000 years ago, also looked down upon these two as evils.
History will never forgive us for turning a blind eye to the miseries of
billions of humans who have died miserably only to give livelihood to few
million and allow hundred odd business houses to amass vulgar profits.
HIV, Terrorism, Natural Disaster, Global warming etc together kills less
than those killed by tobacco and alcohol but they caught the attention of
world much earlier. I am sorry for being impolite. I work with patients
and their families who are ultimate victims of this state-supported
genocide. Dead bodies of my patients and cries of their dear ones always
haunt me.

Of the four causative agents of the NCDs, Tobacco and Alcohol are
predominantly "industry driven" where as the other two (unhealthy diet and
lack of exercise) are predominantly "behavior driven". The control of
"industry driven" factors requires one sensible Head of State and he/she
can save millions of lives. Whereas, to change the behavior one needs to
work with millions to save one life. It is logical that changing the
behavior of the Head of State will have a far reaching impact than
attempting to reform their subject. It is ridiculous that Bhutan is the
only nation that has banned tobacco. It always baffles me why tobacco
control pundits are always afraid to use the word "ban or eradicate" when
the same is the "selling point" for the communicable diseases. How can a
massive group of powerful leaders and intellectuals look dwarfs against a
bunch of shrewd business people? Opium has been banned despite being the
raw material for several crucial pain killers and life saving medicine.
Tobacco has no usage what so ever except causing death and disability but
continues to be a profitable consumer good. People outside are suspecting
seriousness of UN in preventing the NCDs and they believe that it is only
making a platform for the medical and biomedical industry to make a

Tobacco is the "weapon of mass destruction". Do we have the courage
to invade those countries that protect and patronize it? It is unfortunate
that most nations have decided to give priority to revenue over the
suffering of their countrymen. Why cannot we put sanctions on those
countries that do not follow the basic tenets of the NCD prevention? I am
sure that political patronage will disappear if World Bank and other
similar funding agencies link the disbursal of funds to positive actions
to prevent NCDs.

We are losing thousands of lives every is a matter of
urgency. We have discussed this issue ad nauseam for several decades, now
it is time for affirmative action. I sincerely urge every Head of State
present here to change their outlook towards tobacco and alcohol
may kill their own children and grandchildren tomorrow.

Competing interests: No competing interests

13 September 2011
Pankaj Chaturvedi
Associate Professor and Cancer Surgeon
Tata Memorial Hospital, Mumbai