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Extensive Validated Research Required before Adopting Low Nicotine Tobacco
Nov 09, 2016

A panel discussion on 'Emerging Issues for Indian Tobacco Growers' called for  extensive research on the consequences of adoption of very low nicotine level tobacco on farmers, consumers, and the environment, including the economic cost to the nation before its adoption. The discussion was held by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) today to discuss underlying issues and challenges for Indian tobacco growers.  

The panel  brought together agri-scientists, tobacco experts and growers and included experts with extensive experience in the field of farming, genetic engineering, and biotechnology, members of farmer organizations and industry representatives. All stakeholders including Government and International agencies were invited for the session.

Dr. K D Singh, Former Director, Central Tobacco Research Institute, said, “It is incorrect to target only nicotine as part of harm reduction research as other content like tar and other compounds hold greater importance. It is possible to manipulate the nicotine content and other compounds by adopting superior processes like organic cultivation and fast curing which are locally more relevant. We need thorough research before considering measures like low nicotine tobacco for Indian farmers”.

Dr. Shashi Kumar Rhode, Scientist, International Centre for Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology (ICGEB), said, “In India the practice is to import technology instead of investing in local R&D. Indian scientists are fully capable of developing new varieties of tobacco which would be more suitable to Indian farm conditions. India has the capability to be the number one exporter of tobacco by developing new varieties which the world needs, and we should be given the time and opportunity to develop those.”

Mr. G. Satyanarayana, Member – Tobacco Board, said, “Many of the major tobacco growing countries have not signed WHO FCTC [World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control] and will continue to produce high nicotine tobacco. If low nicotine tobacco is forced on Indian farmers, they may suffer huge economic loss in the international market as tobacco from other countries is likely to gain market share. Before proposing low nicotine tobacco crops, India needs to first conduct extensive research on the full impact of such a move covering the agro-climatic impact, consumer impact, economic impact and social impact”.

Mr. C Narendernath, Former President, Indian Tobacco Association, said, “Low tobacco cannot be pushed basis limited R&D done by only one company in the US who will gain disproportionately if this is mandated. We also need to thoroughly study the side effects of such adoption.”

Highlights of the key points put forth during the panel discussion:

1. There is currently very low level of research for low nicotine crop in tobacco.

2. Testing of the seeds has not been extensively done across agro-climatic conditions. Hence, there are doubts that the technology would not be able to deliver results across the world.

3. There is very limited scientific and medical evidence that supports reduced nicotine levels in tobacco products would not cause further harm. This needs to be validated much more.

4. Adoption of new technology would involve change in farming practices being followed through generations, which may throw up practical difficulties. Creation of nicotine standard levels is likely to result in monopolies leading to price exploitation, especially since there are no avenues to currently source low nicotine technologies from other sources.  Therefore, any move to standardize lower content would impact farmers across the world

5. There is no broad based socio-economic study that has been done to understand the impact of this technology in developing and under developed countries.

6.  It would adversely affect traditional products like bidis, cheroot etc. There is no documented research in low nicotine technology for non-cigarette type of tobacco grown in different countries.

7. India has a unique consumption pattern where approximately 90% of tobacco is consumed in the form of smokeless tobacco and bidis. Any proposal needs to be thoroughly analysed for the impact it may have on the livelihood of farmers who are dependent on the crops.

8. It is only speculated that low nicotine in tobacco production may reduce the harm associated with tobacco consumption. However, there is no clear evidence that this may be possible. Long term clinical trials may need to be conducted before any decisions are taken.

9 November 2016

New Delhi

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