Dr. Vishal Rao of India Honored for… | Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
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Dr. Vishal Rao of India Honored for Leadership in Fight against Tobacco Use

May 09, 2017

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Dr. Vishal Rao of Karnataka, India will be honored with the 2017 Judy Wilkenfeld Award for International Tobacco Control Excellence for his leadership in the fight against tobacco use in his home state of Karnataka and across India. The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids will present Dr. Rao with the award at its annual gala on May 10, 2017 in Washington, D.C.

The Wilkenfeld Award was established in honor of the late Judy Wilkenfeld, the founder of Tobacco-Free Kids’ international program, a tireless leader in the effort to reduce the death and disease from tobacco and in the adoption of the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), the influential international treaty that commits countries to take strong action to reduce tobacco use. The award is given annually to an international tobacco control advocate who has made extraordinary contributions to reducing tobacco use in low- and middle-income countries and who both inspires and enables others to do the same in the spirit exemplified by Wilkenfeld.

Dr. Rao is the Chief of Head and Neck Surgical Oncology at Healthcare Global Enterprise Cancer Hospital as well as a Member of the High Level Committee on Tobacco Control for the Government of Karnataka, India.

As both a surgeon and a public health advocate, Dr. Rao has become a leading voice in India’s battle against tobacco use – the leading cause of preventable death. Dr. Rao has brought together leaders from the government, nonprofit and private sectors to encourage collaboration in taking on the tobacco epidemic. He has helped spur tougher enforcement of India’s Cigarettes and Tobacco Products Act of 2003 – which bans smoking in many indoor public places, restricts tobacco advertising and marketing, and mandates large pictorial health warnings for tobacco packs.

'As a surgeon, I see the impact of tobacco use first hand in my patients,” said Dr. Rao. 'Treating patients already suffering from the horrible burden of tobacco-related diseases is not enough. We must implement strong laws that help prevent Indians from starting to use tobacco. With strong government commitment, collaboration across sectors and fierce advocates willing to champion the cause, I know we can greatly reduce the burden of tobacco use in India.'

Dr. Rao’s efforts have led to a ban on gutka and other chewing tobacco in Karnataka – a development that is now being delayed by tobacco industry meddling but that could benefit nearly 65 million people if enforced. Dr. Rao has also been influential in defending India’s requirement for pictorial health warnings covering 85 percent of tobacco packs – among the largest in the world.

Dr. Rao is also committed to improving the lives of those already suffering from the harms of tobacco use. Recently, he designed an affordable voice prosthesis for throat cancer patients who undergo laryngectomy to help them speak again.

'The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids is proud to recognize Dr. Vishal Rao for his tireless, courageous and exceptional leadership in working to reduce tobacco use, save lives and improve health in India,' said Matthew L. Myers, President of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. 'His commitment both to those suffering from the terrible consequences of tobacco use and to future generations sets him apart as a true champion for tobacco control in India.'

Globally, tobacco kills six million people each year and is projected to kill one billion people this century unless governments take effective action now to reduce tobacco use. In India, there are about 275 million tobacco users and tobacco use kills about one million people each year.