Smoking Buddha making Kolkata lose international aid

September 15th, 2008 - 1:39 pm ICT by IANS  

Anbumani RamadossNew Delhi, Sep 15 (IANS) Shocking as it may sound, West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya’s smoking habits are making state capital Kolkata lose out on “millions of dollars” in international funds to fight the tobacco menace.”I myself formulated two applications on behalf of Kolkata to fund the city to curb tobacco consumption and make it a smoke-free zone. But both were rejected by the Bloomberg Initiative as the administrative head himself smokes in public,” said a senior World Health Organisation (WHO) official.

Within the last six months, Kolkata’s application for a grant to control tobacco consumption has been rejected by the Bloomberg Initiative, a global programme to reduce tobacco use in low and middle income countries.

“The grants that Kolkata is losing out are in millions of dollars,” the official said.

In the last couple of years, the eastern metropolis has lost out to other Indian cities at least thrice. Incidentally, in West Bengal, a high 70 percent of the male population apparently consumes tobacco.

“When Chief Minister Bhattacharya smokes, how will others believe that the state or its capital is serious or even interested in controlling tobacco?” the official told IANS, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Bhattacharya has many times been spotted smoking in public places and government buildings. A couple of months ago, union Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss had appealed to him to give up smoking for a greater cause.

The WHO official said all the major cities in India like Chennai, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Chandigarh and Delhi have received funds for reducing the tobacco menace.

“In Delhi, the chief minister (Sheila Dikshit) is advocating a smoke-free capital and efforts are on for it to become a smoke-free zone before the 2010 Commonwealth Games.

“Chandigarh’s administration has already done a fantastic job and thus it has become the country’s first smoke-free city. The Bombay Municipal Corporation (BMC) is trying to reduce the tobacco menace,” the WHO official said. “Chennai and Hyderabad are doing their bit as well.”

All these cities have recently received $1 million each from the Bloomberg Initiative. Some other international organisations and even the WHO is helping by means of technical assistance and routing of funds to these cities to reduce the tobacco-related disease burden.

“Perhaps the West Bengal chief minister is not ready to believe that his habit is hampering the image of a well-known and populous metropolitan city,” the official said.

“He is a responsible and progressive administrator, and a very well-known figure. If he wishes, he can quit smoking and help millions in the state, and especially in Kolkata, quit smoking. As such smoking in government buildings is against the law in India,” the official added.

West Bengal is one of the states that consumes the maximum amount of tobacco. Over 70 percent of men there consume some kind of tobacco. In contrast, the figure is 40 percent for Delhi and Tamil Nadu, 48 percent for Maharashtra and 33 percent for Punjab.

While nearly 16 percent of women in West Bengal consume tobacco, in Punjab the figure is less than one percent, in Tamil Nadu it’s 2.8 percent, in Delhi 3.1 percent and in Andhra Pradesh 5.2 percent.

Every year, nearly one million Indians lose their battle against life to tobacco-related diseases.

The Bloomberg Initiative was launched in 2006 with funds from Bloomberg Philanthropies. It provides grants to support projects to develop and deliver high-impact tobacco control interventions.

The International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease and the campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids manage the grants programme.

Besides Bloomberg, there are other agencies like the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation that provide grants to reduce the tobacco burden.

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