The Centre may delay the April 1 introduction of gory pictorial images covering 85% of tobacco product packs.
The “rethink” on implementing the government’s notification in this regard was discussed when civil society representatives, along with MP Supriya Sule, met Union health minister J P Nadda on March 18.
The minister reportedly conveyed that the government plans to delay the compliance date for the industry, sources told TOI. However, there is no official word on it yet.
A health ministry notification dated October 15, 2014, said that of the 85% space on packs, 60% will have to be devoted to pictorial warnings, while 25% will be covered by textual warnings about the adverse effects of consuming tobacco. The space currently covered by warnings is 40% and only on one side of the pack.
This “rethink” could have serious ramification for India where one in three adults consume some form of tobacco, public health experts said.
“In a country where nearly a million lives are lost due to tobacco use, large graphic warnings occupying 85% of the pack are a key measure to protect youth and save lives”, Douglas Bettcher, director, prevention of non-communicable diseases, WHO, told TOI at the World Conference on Tobacco or Health 2015, in Abu Dhabi.
This may be a huge setback for efforts to curb tobacco use even in India’s neighbourhood, experts said. Encouraged by India’s decision, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka, too, had decided to increase the size of pictorial warnings.
“A picture says a thousand words. Picture warnings are especially important for those who cannot read,” Rob Cunningham, senior policy analyst at the Canadian Cancer Society and author of the report, ‘Cigarette Package Health Warning’, said. Pictorial warning have a greater impact than text-only labels and can be recognized by low-literacy audiences and children — two vulnerable population groups.
Opposition against the bigger warnings had been building up over the months. Industry bodies, including Ficci, had urged the ministry to consider withdrawing the notification and retain the earlier norm of 20% (or 40% of the front panel). A parliamentary panel led by BJP MP Dilipkumar M Gandhi has reportedly said it was necessary to consult all stakeholders before arriving at a decision, and keep the notification in abeyance.
(The correspondent is in Abu Dhabi on a fellowship of the National Press Foundation, Washington)