Sunita Tomar, the face of India’s anti-tobacco ad campaign, died at the Tata Memorial Hospital in Mumbai on Wednesday, two days after she wrote a letter to PM Modi, expressing disappointment over BJP MP Dilip Gandhi’s remark against bigger warnings on tobacco products.
She passed away at 4 am on Wednesday, according to Indian Express. She had appeared in an advertisement against tobacco products in which she described how she was suffering from mouth cancer because of tobacco. However, she had finally overcome her disease, although she had been warned that there was a 50 percent chance of a relapse.
“Sunita came to us three days back with breathing difficulty and weight-loss. She had lost 12kg. We were suspecting a relapse. She was just 28 and mother of two young kids. Though she is only one of the 10 lakh Indians who die every year because of tobacco, I am sure her campaign must have saved millions from picking up the habit,” Indian Express quoted Sunita’s doctor Pankaj Chaturvedi as saying.
In her letter to Prime Minister Modi, Sunita had said that she herself had started consuming tobacco because there was no warning on the products at that time. “When I started consuming tobacco, there was no warning on its ill effects. I did not know that tobacco chewing would lead to cancer and spoil my life. Doctors say though I have been cured, the oral cancer can strike back. After being through the pain, I decided to warn other users through my experience,” she had said in her letter, according to DNA.
Sunita’s letter to the PM came after the remarks of Dilip Gandhi, head of Parliamentary panel on subordinate legislation examining the provisions of Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act, which had sought deferment of the move to increase the size of pictorial warnings on tobacco products.
The Parliamentary Committee, which Gandhi heads, had “strongly” urged the government to keep on hold its proposal to increase the size of pictorial warnings on tobacco packets from 40 percent to 85 percent.
“All agree on the harmful effects of tobacco. But there is no Indian survey report to prove that tobacco consumption leads to cancer. All the studies are done abroad. Cancer does not happen only because of tobacco. We have to study the Indian context, as four crore people in states like Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh are dependent on bidi-making through Tendupatta,” Gandhi had told PTI.
India has the highest prevalence of oral cancer globally, with 75,000 to 80,000 new cases of oral cancers being reported every year, according to a health report submitted by the Ministry of Health in consultation with National Institute of Health and Family Welfare on the ill-effects of chewing tobacco.
A recent MoHFW-WHO supported PHFI study, estimated that the total economic costs attributable to tobacco use from all diseases in India in the year 2011 amounted to a staggering Rs 1,04,500 crore – 12 percent more than the combined state and central government expenditure on health care in the same year.