Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Wednesday said India is committed to a tobacco-free society and emphasised on providing alternative livelihood to those engaged in tobacco farming or manufacture.The prime minister said India recently banned the sale of gutkha, a widely consumed form of chewing tobacco."India is firmly committed to the vision of a tobacco free society," the prime minister said in a recorded message at the International Conference on Public Health Priorities in the 21st Century here."As we act with conviction and commitment to eliminate tobacco as a threat to human health, we must also assist those engaged in tobacco farming or manufacture, to move towards economically viable alternative livelihood," he said.More than 130 speakers from over 30 countries are participating in the two-day deliberations to discuss ways for tobacco control.India is the second largest consumer of tobacco products in the world and the third largest producer of tobacco.Nearly 275 million people use tobacco in India. Almost 48 percent men and 20 percent women use some form of tobacco.Stating that India faces a unique challenge in its response to the tobacco burden, Health and Family Welfare Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad said: "There are myriad varieties of tobacco products, both smoking and smokeless forms, which are widely used in India."He said of the nearly 35 percent of Indian adults, who use tobacco, 21 percent used smokeless tobacco products like gutkha, zarda and khaini, which were chewed orally."India has the highest number of smokeless tobacco users in the world and tobacco causes over 1 million deaths in India annually."Also, India has the highest number of oral cancer cases in the world and 90 percent of these are attributable to smokeless tobacco use," he said.K. Srinath Reddy, president, Public Health Foundation of India, emphasised on levying tax on tobacco industry."If unchecked, the death toll due to tobacco abuse could claim over a billion lives in the 21st century globally," he said.
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