Anti-tobacco group raises hackles over Mamata’s smoke joke

New Delhi, April 25 (IANS) An anti-tobacco group Thursday expressed “shock” over West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s joke asking people to smoke more, so more revenue could be garnered to compensate investors of the collapsed Saradha chit fund.

“This is a great discouragement for those working in the area of public health,” said Bhavna Mukhopadhyay, executive director, Voluntary Health Association of India.

Mukhopadhyay said the West Bengal chief minister announced a 10 percent tax hike on cigarettes. “Higher prices discourage youth from initiating cigarette smoking and encourage current smokers to quit, but such a move should certainly not be accompanied by suggestions that people should use more tobacco.”

“We appreciate the tax increase on cigarettes, on the one hand. However, it is shocking to hear the statement encouraging people to smoke more, instead of protecting people of West Bengal from the dangers of tobacco use,” she said.

The Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) India released by the union ministry of health and family welfare, reveals that about 36.3 percent of West Bengal’s population uses a tobacco product in one or other form. Among these, 21.3 percent people are cigarette smokers, 15.7 percent are bidi smokers, and 21.9 percent use smokeless tobacco.

In a bid to cut down on the consumption of products containing tobacco or nicotine in West Bengal, the office of the commissioner of food safety, under the state health and family welfare department, recently issued a notification prohibiting manufacture, storage, sale or distribution of gutka, pan masala and other products containing tobacco or nicotine as ingredients for a period of one year with effect from May 1, 2013.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee announced a Rs.500 crore fund Wednesday to compensate the poorest among lakhs of depositors who have lost their savings in the Saradha chit fund collapse.

The chief minister announced a 10 percent additional tax on cigarettes to mop up revenue to reimburse the poor people defrauded by Saradha chit fund, and suggested, with the hint of a smile, that people should smoke more for a few days to help raise the money sooner.

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