July 03, 2011

Stronger pictorial warnings on tobacco products from Dec

The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare today notified more stringent pictorial warnings for smokable/chewable tobacco packets. The new warnings will come into effect from December, according to a ministry statement. The health ministry's decision follows long-winding protests by the tobacco industry.

ITC, India's top cigarette maker, refused to comment on the development. When Business Standard contacted an ITC spokesperson, he said, “We have not yet received any official notice. We would be ready to comment when we go through the notification and the mandatory pictures. It’s too early to comment on the impact on our cigarette sales.”

However, analysts pointed out a strong pictorial depiction of lung and oral cancer on tobacco packets may curb smoking in the long run. An analyst said the industry was ready for such a notice and that this law was already being exercised in some other countries. Pinakiranjan Mishra, partner and national leader, retail and consumer product practice, Ernst and Young, said, “The companies were already expecting this. This development will not bring major protest or impact on sales immediately. The tobacco consumers would continue smoking even after this." He added, "display of stronger pictures will not change their habits overnight. However, such a practice may have an effect on the long run and the next generation may quit smoking.”
India is the second-largest producer of tabacco in the world. Estimates suggest the government collects Rs 35,000 crore from the tobacco industry as revenue annually.

The health ministry notification has cleared a set of four pictures depicting lung and oral cancer for all tobacco product packages — smoking and smokeless (chewing) forms. The pictures will be accompanied by the ‘smoking kills’ sign. The warnings will be rotated every two years from December, in sync with the industry view. Earlier, the government had sought to rotate these pictorial warnings every year, but the industry lobby protested against it, saying unsold stock may go waste.

While currently, branded cigarette packets carry a milder pictorial warning with a ‘smoking kills’ sign, the non-smoking or the chewing products do not have any such clear warnings. Health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad had earlier said Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS), India, carried out in 2009-2010, found out 35 per cent of adults use tobacco in some form or the other. “Among them, 26 per cent adults use smokeless tobacco and 9 per cent are smokers. Smokeless tobacco is responsible for 80 per cent of mouth cancer while 20 per cent of mouth cancers are due to smoking,” he said.

The new norms will be called ‘Cigarrettes & Other Tobacco Products (packaging and labelling) amendment Rules, 2011’. The notification has been issued after the government received feedback from different sections of the society that the existing health warnings are not strong and effective enough to influence users to quit the habit of tobacco consumption.

The government had enacted a legislation to curb smoking in the country through Cigarettes and other tobacco products Regulation Act (COTPA) in 2003. After a long legal battle, the rules relating to Section 7 of COTPA, 2003 which mandated pictorial health warnings on tobacco products came into implementation on May 31, 2009. But the pictorial warnings notified at that point were found to be not too effective.

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