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India: court bans tobacco board from trade show

The Global Tobacco Networking Forum (GTNF) 2010, billed by its organisers as ‘The greatest tobacco talk show on Earth’, was held in October in the south Indian city of Bengaluru (formerly Bangalore). The popular Indian slogan, ‘India shining’, encapsulating the optimistic spirit of India's ongoing economic resurgence, might well have been uttered by conference delegates contemplating the country's thriving tobacco market. However, it is in stark contrast to another aspect of India today: around one million people dying from tobacco related illnesses every year.

The conference—the third of its kind, previously held in Brazil and Thailand—offered its delegates (only representatives of the industry) a unique package of experiences. First, a field trip to have a close-up view of tobacco fields, crop varieties, auction platforms, best practices and interaction with tobacco growers. Second, a two-day interactive meeting to present and discuss burning contemporary issues of the industry. The topics at the interaction ranged from routine manufacturing issues (‘sustainability’, ‘ingredients’), to trade regulation and policy (‘FCTC: what it is, what it should be’, ‘taxing to the max’). The event was a closed one where, apart from stringent rules on eligibility to participate, there was also a strict code of conduct limiting note-taking, prohibiting photography and presumably controlling press coverage (which was negligible).

Given the fact that leading Indian and international tobacco companies sponsored the forum, it is reasonable to conclude that much of the agenda—apart from ‘networking’—was promotion and celebration of the industry. Unfortunately, the Indian Tobacco Board of India (ITB), a government entity established under the Union (federal) ministry of industry and commerce, was one of the sponsors. By its own admission through a right to information (RTI) act reply, ITB …

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