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SMOKIN’ EM OUT

Tobacco ban-dit

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Chaturvedi pushed for the ban on gutka and pan masala in Maharashtra.

An early promise made to his grandfather keeps Dr Pankaj Chaturvedi fired up to serve the poor. He draws anti-tobacco posters as passionately as he pushes to implement the ban on its consumption.

As far as the general perception goes, doctors get into the profession to make a good living. But here is one oncologist, who has been working tirelessly to dry up his own queue of patients. A head and neck cancer surgeon with Tata Memorial Hospital in Mumbai, Dr Pankaj Chaturvedi has been a catalyst in whipping up the frenzy for a ban on smoking in public places implemented, and also a ban on gutka and pan masala in Maharashtra.

After his post graduation in 1995, he joined Tata Hospital. By 2002, he was a trained head and neck cancer surgeon. In 2007, he started his work against smoking in public places. The next year, with the help of the government, NGOs and the media, he managed to get the ban implemented.

Chaturvedi started the Voice of Tobacco Victims campaign, which allowed cancer victims to voice their opinion. He also represented India as cancer ambassador in the UN. Nearer home, he was invited to conduct an awareness programme for all members of the Parliament in March 2011. It was the plight of four mouth cancer patients that motivated MPs to support the ban on gutka. Moreover, MLAs in six states were also influenced by Chaturvedi and his patients to push the tobacco control agenda.

"Almost three out of four of the major surgeries are related to tobacco. I watched 80 per cent of new patients die a premature death as they came in at the last stage of cancer, " he says.
Though according to the Food Safety and Standard Authority (FSSI) Act, gutka had been banned last year, Chaturvedi became the driving force in Maharashtra to not only implement the ban, but also ban pan masala - a first in India. Apart from conducting many studies that proved the health hazards of tobacco, pan masala and even areca nut, Chaturvedi has authored six textbook chapters and 70 papers in international peer-reviewed journals.

The 43-year-old father of two decided to serve the needy and the poor even before taking the Hippocratic Oath. Chaturvedi belongs to Gazipur village of Uttar Pradesh. "My father being a government employee refused to pay donation for my medical seat. But I got the last seat in the Banaras Hindu University. That day, I promised my grandfather that I will always serve the needy, " he says.

In the early days of his career, Chaturvedi worked in a remote village of Maharashtra when the Latur earthquake struck, and also in a village for orphans. "I realised that happiness comes from within. And each person has to search for that one thing that makes him/ her happy, " he says.

That one thing for Chaturvedi is his work. In addition to treating cancer patients, he has been tirelessly working towards prevention of the disease.

Even his free time is dedicated to work. "I hate weekends because without anything to do, I start getting restless. I use all the surplus energy to control the use of tobacco. I draw cartoons, make posters, slogans and parodies that will drive the message across to smokers and tobacco users, " he says.

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