1,500 health policymakers and experts from 180 countries have flown in. Swedish delegate Martin Jeppsson said when he first looked out of the window, he though 'it was cloudy at first'. Photograph: (AFP)
The seventh edition of the Conference of Parties to the WHO framework convention on tobacco control is in session
"I was looking out of the aeroplane window and I thought it was cloudy at first and when we approached the ground I thought maybe it's misty," said Martin Jeppsson, a Swedish delegate who has arrived in Delhi-NCR for the seventh edition of Conference of Parties (COP7) to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). "Then I realised it's probably not mist at all, it's probably smog. Once I stepped out of the plane I understood what it was," said Jeppsson, breathing in the air of one of the world's most polluted cities. Jeppsson was, however, seen without what has become in Delhi the ubiquitous pollution mask.
As many as 1,500 health policy makers and experts from 180 countries have gathered in the National Capital Region of Greater Noida to discuss tobacco control and clean air at the biggest global platform for a framework on tobacco regulation. While the delegates discussed ways to curb tobacco-induced pollution, the air outside the venue was toxic with pollutants. Just a day before the tobacco meet began, Delhi had its most polluted day of the season on Sunday. As part of the emergency measures taken by the state government, schools in the capital have been closed down for three days.
"It was certainly a matter of shame for us to invite our guests in such hazardous atmosphere," said Dr Pankaj Chaturvedi, oncologist at Mumbai's Tata Memorial Hospital who is part of the Indian delegation. But Jeppsson flips the coin and sees the brighter side. He believes this is the right chance to come up with solutions for clean air. "It's a good thing that the international community is here now because we can see how air pollution damages the health and it would bring greater attention to the importance of air quality across the world," he said. "Something good can come out of it."
At COP7, the Indian delegation will stress the need to regulate smokeless tobacco use. According to a 2014 report by the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, 80 per cent of smokeless tobacco users are in India and Bangladesh. "Tobacco smoke is a confirmed cancer causing agent and it is a source of indoor pollution. Outdoor pollution will require many people to smoke," said Dr Chaturvedi.