Friday, December 04, 2009

Turning over a new leaf : Tobacco ?

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I am not obsessed with folks in  Parliament and their performances.

I don't even begrudge them their extremely cushy jobs, where they immediately get a fund of  Rs. two crores (20 million) to spend as they like, supposedly for their constituency.

I am not even jealous  of a salary of Rs 12,000 pm, a daily allowance of Rs 500/ - per day in session, a constituency allowance 10,000 pm, 14,000 p m office expense allowance, 32 free air journeys , unlimited  highest class rail and steamer.ship travel per session (for self and spouse/relative/companion), free virtually unlimited landlines and cell telephone service etc etc

And how can I,  say anything about  their ability to get a life and family pension  with travel benefits ,after enjoying a single 5 year session (if the government doesn't fall earlier, due to defections etc) ?

And these are all the visible benefits.    Its not considered advisable to talk about the others.

But why  am I talking at all ?  Lets just say, that after 21 years of Government service, I went to the library of the Institute that gives me a pension,  thinking that one could borrow books as a retiree,  a facility that exists for the so called upper class retirees. The answer was a firm negative.   Regretfully.   The regret had something to do with the fact, that major part of my work had to do with just about everything related to their library circulation software,  including training lectures,  but the rules were made by someone in New Delhi,  who was convinced that the higher your post , the higher your brain and reading ability post retirement , and vice versa.

But maybe times have changed (On second thoughts , no). I just read about our MP's coming up with what looks like a very simplistic solution  regarding tobacco and cigarette consumption.

No rules about who the smoker has to  be. Upper class. Lower class. Invisible class. Exalted class. Royal class.  

Folks in Delhi  differentiate. Crabs don't.

Members of Parliament in India have just come up with what they think is a unique idea. The Parliamentary Committee on Health and Family Welfare has suggested that tobacco companies be asked to include within every cigarette packet, a coupon for a free cancer check up.

While I thought the earlier initiative, of including ghastly pictures of oral cancers on cigarette packets was OK, this one sounds very simplistic. What about free cancer check up coupons for the Gutka (chewing tobacco) packets ? What about those who get their lungs affected by secondary smoke, blown in rings around them by people who should know better ? Do they get coupons as well ? And once you are diagnosed, God forbid, as positive, what about the rest of the expense ? Of surgery ? Of radiation ? Chemotherapy ?

What about  cancer check up coupons along with sales of alcoholic beverages ?  All those shameless companies, that show ads on TV for "Casettes and CD's"  bearing a whiskey brand name , because TV bans the ads otherwise ?

And why not get truck and car manufacturers along with oil companies to issue coupons for cancer checkups of the respiratory kind ,  since they do much to spoil the air quality around me ?    Maybe three wheeler manufacturers can give an extra coupon . Cars, trucks, three wheelers increasing by huge leaps and bounds in Mumbai, people taking loans to buy them, and the least the sellers can do is give free coupons with each sale. 

By the same logic,  the Mumbai Metropolitan Regional  Development Authority (MMRDA), along with the Municipal Authorities,  can issue coupons for Orthopaedic and Neurological checkups.  A  senior person, travelling across town  for a conference with a group in an official  bus, had a briefcase fall on his head when the bus went through a pothole, and was rushed in for a checkup on arrival at the venue. He was a neighbour earlier, and told me himself.  Another colleague, developed scoliosis after travelling for a year by a bus, to a different venue for  work on a daily basis.  ( Mumbai buses are not about cushioned seats, sanitized air and polite conversation with your neighbor as you traipse daintily to the exit).

And the possibilities of what could happen to the coupons  make me shudder.  Someone will come up with counterfeit coupons.  With unscrupolous folks in business for creating bogus Ration cards, Passports, PAN cards, College marksheets,   this kind of coupon production will be like asking a Ph.D to teach kindergarten.  The market will be flooded with these check up coupons. There may even be made-to-order coupons, for maladies of choice.  Further policing rules by the government will naturally lead to creative flouting of the same.

In the meanwhile, political parties will smile and accept massive political donations from tobacco companies, give candidatures to people close to Gutka manufacturing,   accept gratis flights in planes belonging to alcoholic drinks manufacturers at election time,  and turn a dangerous blind eye to the flouting of rules by road contractors with the right connections up there.

A government that can spend crores on security  for their top people,  specialized stem cell treatments abroad for selected politicians, and millions on decorations for various inaugurations, shouldn't find it difficult to subsidize  and encourage cigarette manufacturers to  enter the new field of  using the tobacco plant as a vaccine factory.   Yes. That's not a misprint or a figment of my imagination.

According to a study coauthored by  Ronald Levy, an oncologist at the Stanford University School of Medicine and reported in Scientific American :

"......anti-cancer vaccines work by pumping a patient full of the same protein / antigen that is on the surface of tumor cells. Researchers believe that if the body contains enough of the protein, the immune system will recognize it as a potential danger and send out armies of disease-killing cells to seek and destroy tumors harboring it.

Researchers took a sample of a patient's tumors, (white blood cells that help the body battle disease and infection). They then extracted the gene from the cells that coded for the antigen they needed (to help the immune system recognize the tumors as threats).

The scientists achieved this by inserting the gene into a plant microbe known a tobacco mosaic virus (TMV). Plants are infected with TMV simply by scratching their leaves and depositing the virus into the tears. Researchers discovered that the virus spreads throughout tobacco plants within a week, in the process cranking out a surfeit of the coveted proteins. The scientists ground the leaves and separated out the antigen, which they then injected into volunteers and noticed encouraging results."

I am aware that tobacco manufacturers are cognizant of this research.  There was recently a presentation in New  Delhi about this.  

In a typical scenario, they (MNC's) will sell off their inventory stock in Third world countries with lax rules, when the First world makes new rules , banning things.  This must stop..

We have the knowledge, we have the trained humanpower for research and the facilities.  We have numerous tobacco plantations, possibly nurtured by these companies.  We, in India need to take the initiative and persuade these companies to turn to vaccine production.

Not coupons. Buy one cigarette pack, get  two free : a coupon, and cancer .

Is it too much to hope that those in power , take an initiative in furthering and implementing the research and look beyond filling party coffers ?

Or is research  all about introducing genetically modified  Monsanto aubergines (baingans)  to the nation ?


  1. I'm in a bit of a mood today, actually for a little while now.... so when I read your blog post, I wanted to scream. It's all about money and slap a warning or a coupon. A coupon? Really. Here's your habit and a dose of reality. *gag*

  2. I get so frustrated with the whole tobacco/government/and everything else that I can't even speak or write about it coherently. Thanks goodness you can! For the most part idiocy does indeed rule! So, when do people make an attempt to think/reason for themselves??? Beats me and I've been waiting to see it for a long time.

    Great post as always! Glad you can say/write it, someone needs to!


  3. That is what is called killing two birds with one stone, pampering two already-mollycoddled industries - the tobacco giants and the pharmaceutical industry.

  4. Feel like a pawn in this game unabashedly played