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AUGUST 2, 2017

For a nuclear-free world

  • The adoption of the historic United Nations pact to ban nuclear weapons underscores a paradigm shift in the discourse on global disarmament.
  • The case for abolition, under the treaty finalised in July, is premised on the potential danger to the very survival of civilisation from another holocaust.
  • The new treaty, which 122 nations have approved, outlaws the entire range of activity relating to the production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons. The ban on the conduct of underground explosions envisaged under Article 1 is a breakthrough.
  • The 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty has not entered into force because many among the 44 designated nuclear-capable states, whose ratification is mandatory under the pact, have not come on board.
  • Last year, the Marshall Islands suffered a legal setback to secure compensation for the victims of radiation exposure during the U.S. nuclear tests conducted in the 1950s. But the litigation at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) has underpinned the need to codify a strong provision on the protection of victims.
  • Assistance for people exposed to extreme radiation and contamination of the environment has been spelt out explicitly under Article 6 of the current treaty. The most central provision is Article 1(d) which categorically prohibits the use of nuclear weapons, or a threat to that effect, under all circumstances.
  • The ICJ’s 1996 advisory opinion was that the use of these deadly arms, or even a threat, was generally illegal. It was, however, indecisive on the question of their legitimacy in the exceptional case of a state’s very survival.
  • Support for the new treaty has steadily grown over the years to cover nearly two-thirds of the UN member states which adopted it last month. It is hence not unreasonable to anticipate that the required 50 instruments of ratification for its entry into force would be submitted swiftly.
  • Moreover, the nuclear weapons treaty marks the completion of a process to enforce an international ban on all categories of weapons of mass destruction following the prohibition of biological and chemical arms.
    • This is another strong incentive for its early ratification, about a century after the deadliest deployment of chlorine gas in Ieper, Belgium during the First World War unleashed an arms race.
  • The world’s nuclear powers, which boycotted the negotiations on the landmark agreement, have remained defiant ever since its adoption. Their continued resistance will no doubt jeopardise its effectiveness. But that does not take away from its sound basis in moral and legal principles.


Breaking addiction

  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has struck panic among tobacco companies by announcing a comprehensive proposal to reduce the amount of nicotine in cigarettes to non-addictive levels.
  • This is aimed at striking at the root of the problem of smokers getting addicted, and being unable to quit the habit.
  • Nicotine does not directly cause cancers and other diseases that kill people, but is extremely addictive. By keeping smokers addicted for the long term, nicotine exposes them to nearly 7,000 chemicals, many of them deadly, every time they smoke.
  • Reducing nicotine in cigarettes to non-addictive levels would therefore have multiple benefits — reduce the likelihood of new users (those in the 15-24 age group) getting hooked to cigarettes, increase the chances of habitual smokers being able to quit, and cut smoking-related disease and death burden overall.
  • The FDA, however, has no plans to regulate nicotine content in electronic cigarettes and other nicotine-replacement products, which are seen to be alternatives to help smokers quit the habit.
  • A study published a few days ago in the journal BMJ found that a “substantial increase” in e-cigarette use among adult smokers had led to a “significant increase” in the quitting rate among smokers. By making it illegal a year ago to sell e-cigarettes to children, the FDA has effectively addressed the growing concern about children taking to vaping.

In India:

  • While India is yet to prohibit the sale of e-cigarettes to minors, it has followed most of the measures mentioned in the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control guidelines.
  • Unlike the U.S., India banned tobacco advertisements long ago, introduced pictorial warnings (covering 85% of the front and back of packages of tobacco products), and prohibited the use of descriptors such as light, mild and low as well as the sale of flavoured cigarettes.
  • Threatened by the dwindling number of young smokers, there is the possibility that tobacco companies will target developing countries such as India with renewed vigour.
  • While they may pull out all the stops to subvert or dilute tobacco control measures, the government should remain resolute in not losing the gains made in the last few years — the number of tobacco users reduced by more than eight million between 2010 and 2016.