BJP parliamentarian from Assam says that anyone who believes that smoking causes cancer should consider this - "I know two elderly people who drank a bottle of alcohol and smoked 60 cigarettes every day. One is still alive, the other died at 86."
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. A Congress MP from Karnataka, S P Muddahanumegowda, joined them today in stating that the government has no evidence that links smoking with cancer.
These law-makers are on a parliamentary committee that has asked for more time to review the government's plans, to enforce larger pictorial warnings on cigarette packets starting April 1.
While defending the tobacco industry, the BJP's Shyam Charan Gupta told NDTV on Thursday, "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.
Many on the parliamentary committee, like Ram Kumar Sharma from Bihar, argue that a crackdown on tobacco will leave hundreds of thousands of people unemployed. Mr Sharma said, "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?"
Health experts and activists point out that up to 900,000 Indians die every year from causes related to tobacco use. India will record 1.5 million tobacco-related deaths annually by 2020, according to some estimates by the International Tobacco Control Project.
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