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Govt notifies stronger pictorial warnings on tobacco packs

With over 2,000 people in India said to be dying every day from tobacco-related diseases, the government’s notification for more graphic pictorial health warnings on tobacco product packs from December 1, 2011, is long overdue

The Indian government has finally decided to make graphic pictorial warnings on cigarette packs mandatory from December 1, 2011. The existing warnings of a scorpion on bidi packs and a cancer-affected lung on tobacco product packs will be replaced by graphic pictures of oral and lung cancers.

Tobacco companies wanted the graphic picture warnings to be deferred by two or three years, when the issue came up for discussion last year. The government agreed to a one-year deferment. It issued the notification on May 29, 2011. However, according to a report by CNN-IBN, cigarette packs won’t have the harsher warning that Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad had publicised in March 2010; those will only go on chewable tobacco products.

The health minister justified this by saying that of the 35% of Indian adults who use tobacco products, only 9% smoke whereas 26% chew tobacco.

The warnings will be changed every two years instead of annually as the ministry had earlier decided.
CNN-IBN accessed two right to information (RTI) queries by the Voluntary Health Association of India that reveal there was pressure on the health ministry even from within the government to go easy on cigarette manufacturers.
India is a signatory to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control of the World Health Organisation, under which governments cannot consider any representations or have interactions with the tobacco industry whilst forming tobacco control policies. 
Also, under the convention, signatory countries are under obligation to reduce tobacco cultivation in their countries by 2020. According to the Central Tobacco Research Institute in Andhra Pradesh, 6 million farmers and 20 million farm labourers across 15 states are engaged in tobacco cultivation. The argument by the tobacco lobby has always been that this will render the huge workforce redundant. But in Maharashtra, which has 1,950 hectares under tobacco, efforts are being made by the state agriculture department to persuade tobacco farmers to opt for other crops such as palm oil.

Agriculture scientists say it is possible to reduce areas under tobacco if the government provides the right incentives. Though the returns on tobacco cultivation are said to be high, a paper by the WHO on tobacco and poverty says this is not necessarily so. The tobacco industry has encouraged more farmers to grow tobacco claiming it is a remunerative crop. However, the expansion of tobacco farming, especially in developing countries, “has created a situation where more and more farmers are competing to sell tobacco to companies at increasingly lower prices”.

According to the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), India records about 800,000 tobacco-related deaths every year, or 2,200 deaths a day. India is the world’s third largest producer and second largest consumer of tobacco after China; over 241 million Indians are estimated to be using tobacco in some form or other.

A matter of concern is children ingesting tobacco, usually in the form of gutka, which is sold near schools and colleges despite the sale of tobacco products being banned within 100 yards of a school, college or hospital, under the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act, 2003. Like the ban on smoking in public places, it needs far stricter checking and implementation than is currently the case. 

Source:, May 31, 2011
            Press Trust of India, May 29, 2011
            The Hindu, May 29, 2011