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Finance ministry may be urged to shun meet funded by tobacco companies

NEW DELHI: Faced with opposition from public health activists, the health ministry is set to intervene and may soon urge the finance ministry to distance itself from an upcoming international conference in New Delhi, being co-organised by a consortium funded by several transnational tobacco companies.

The event – The 12th Annual Asia Pacific Tax Forum – is being organised by Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER) and International Tax and Investment Centre (ITIC). The event website highlights that confirmed participants include revenue secretary Shakti Kant Das, Central Board of Direct Taxes chairperson Anita Kapur and Central Board of Excise and Customs chairman Kaushal Srivasatava.

However, health activists, advocating tobacco control measures, have raised concerns over participation of government officials in an event sponsored by tobacco firms. The list of sponsors on the ITIC website includes four tobacco companies – Philip Morris International, Imperial Tobacco Ltd, British American Tobacco and JT International that was formerly Japanese Tobacco.

Institute of Public Health has pointed out that the participation of the government officials in the tax forum co-organized by ITIC would amount to violation of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), to which India is a signatory, which acknowledges the influence of tobacco industry and its allies in tobacco control policymaking.

Article 5.3 of FCTC states, “In setting and implementing their public health policies with respect to tobacco control, Parties shall act to protect these policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry in accordance with national law.”

Health ministry officials also approve of the concern. “It is true that participation of government officials in such an event would amount to violation of FCTC. India is a signatory to the framework and we must respect it. Since health ministry is the nodal agency and our stand on tobacco is clear, we are considering writing to finance ministry asking them to keep away from participating in any such event,” the official told ToI.

The event’s website till Wednesday also mentioned Jayant Sinha, minister of state for finance, among the guests. However, Sinha’s name was taken off on Thursday.

Meanwhile, IPH has also approached the Delhi High Court seeking directions for the government to refrain from taking any decision or action with regard to the participation of the representatives at the tax event, scheduled to be held from May 5 to 7 in New Delhi.

The development is significant in wake of the several anti-tobacco measures and policy decisions pending in India- the latest being implementation of larger pictorial warnings on packets of tobacco products. The move has been deferred by the government pending a final report by a Parliamentary sub-committee.

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