Evidence, according to Ram Prasad Sarmah, that “Whether smoking causes cancer or not is debatable.”
Mr Sarmah, 60, has become the third parliamentarian in as many days from the ruling BJP to side with the tobacco industry.
All three law-makers are part of a parliamentary committee that is reviewing the government’s new plans to discourage smoking. The chief of the committee, Dilip Gandhi, said on March 31 that there is no local evidence that correlates cigarettes with cancer.
24 hours later, Shyam Charan Gupta argued against tough curbs on tobacco firms, declaring, “sugar causes diabetes…do we ban it?” He also denied that his ownership of a beedi (hand-rolled cigarettes) empire that’s worth hundreds of crores may have influenced his opinion. Next up was Mr Sarmah who says it’s also worth considering whether “herbal medicines” can alleviate any downside to smoking.
The committee has handed a major break to tobacco firms by declaring that it needs more time to review the government’s plans, announced late last year, to enforce larger pictorial warnings on cigarette packets starting April 1.
Another lawmaker on the 15-member panel, Ram Kumar Sharma from Bihar, argues that “foreign cigarettes sell in the black market all over India. If we increase the size of warning signs on Indian packets, who will buy Indian cigarettes?” Mr Sharma belongs to a regional party that is part of the Prime Minister’s coalition government.