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The face of the anti-tobacco campaign, Sunita Tomar passes away

Amidst all the noise about deferring the move to display 85% pictorial warnings on packages of all tobacco products, the poster girl for Union Health Ministry's anti-tobacco campaign, Sunita Tomar, lost her life to Oral Cancer on Wednesday. The government was to bring into effect issuing big pictorial warnings on tobacco products from today, April 1, 2015. But due to pressure from the parliamentary committee and the tobacco industry, the government has deferred the move citing reasons that it needs some more time for deliberation and all consider the effects this move will have on all the stakeholders. (Read: WHO: Availability and affordability of locally produced tobacco products a formidable challenge for India)

The death Sunita Tomar in such a time is a rude awakening. BJP MP Dilip Gandhi was the one to instigate this stay on the 2014 notification. He had requested the health ministry to bring a stay on the order citing reasons that it will affect the livelihood of four crore people who depend on bidi making for their livelihood. He also went one step ahead and said that since no Indian study claims that tobacco is harmful to health and causes oral cancer, the government should consider bringing a stay on this order.

The Indian Express reported that two days before her death, Sunita Tomar, had written to the Prime Minister expressing her shock about Dilip Gandhi's statement especially when he holds a powerful and a responsible position. In her letter, she wrote that bigger warnings on tobacco packages can probably save some innocent lives like hers. She urged the prime minister to take up the cause of tobacco on his show Mann Ki Baat.

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Sunita became the face of the anti-tobacco campaign in 2014. She hailed from rural Madhya Pradesh and started consuming gutkha when she was just 22 years old. She was already in the advanced stage of oral cancer when she first visited the Tata Memorial Hospital for her treatment, where she underwent a surgery for her oral cancer. After her surgery, her doctors pointed out that even though she was cancer free then, her battle was far from over as there are 50% chances of oral cancer recurring. (Read: Anti-tobacco ad will Sunita make a bigger impact than Mukesh)

All of us have seen the video advertisement in which Sunita shared her experience. This advertisement was translated into 17 languages. The hard-hitting video aimed at creating awareness among tobacco users and compel them to quit. The commercial was aired on all government and private TV channels and also cinemas and theatres for five weeks. With her story Sunita managed to create awareness among the nations youth and had an impact on the most important person in her life her husband, who quit tobacco after witnessing his wife s ordeal.

Image & Video source: World Lung Foundation/Youtube.com


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