Pictorial health warnings will cover 85% of tobacco packages on both sides beginning April 1, 2016, the union health ministry announced on Tuesday.
The new pictorial warnings--with pictures of mouth and throat cancers--will cover all tobacco packages, including imported cigarettes and chewing tobacco.
The picture will cover 60% of the package surface, and the text warning will cover another 25%. The text will be English and/or the language the brand is sold under.
Hard-hitting anti-tobacco advertisements and graphic pack warnings--especially those that include pictures--stop children from starting to smoke and increase the number of smokers who quit, says the WHO .
Never too late
Currently, India has among the weakest warnings in the world, with the caution occupying only 40% of the surface on one side of the package and covering merely 20% of the entire packet.
According to a 2014 report by the Canadian Cancer Society, India is ranked 136th among 198 countries listed according to the size of their health warnings. (http://www.tobaccolabels.ca/healthwarningsinfo/statusreport/). Other Asian countries have stronger warnings, with pictures covering 85% of the package on both sides in Thailand, 90% in Sri Lanka and 75% in Nepal.
More than one million people in India die due to tobacco use each year, estimates the Indian Council of Medical Research.
Tobacco kills half of its users, with smoking and smokeless tobacco killing more than 6 million people worldwide - one death every 6 seconds - each year, says the World Health Organisation (WHO) (http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs339/en/).
Unchecked, tobacco-related deaths from cancers, heart disease, lung diseases and stroke, among others, are expected to increase to over 8 million annually by 2030, 1.5 million of them in India.
Despite bans on advertising, sale to minors and smoking in public places, more than one in three adults uses some form of tobacco in India.
On October 15, 2014, India had announced the pictorial warning size would be increased to 85% of the total package size from April 1 that year, but implementation was deferred by a parliamentary panel set up to review the impact on industry.
The decision was based on the recommendation of a parliamentary committee headed by BJP MP Dilip Kumar Gandhi from Ahmednagar in Maharashtra, who said there were no studies out of India to show that tobacco use caused cancer and other diseases. Along with Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra is one of the major tobacco-growing states in India.
Health ministry officials said the latest directive, issued late on Monday, was to comply with Rajasthan High Court ruling in July that asked the centre to enforce the new rules immediately.
“This seems to be the union health ministry’s face-saving strategy to avoid contempt of court. I hope the bigger warnings are actually implemented in April,” said Seema Gupta, who works at the Voluntary Health Association of India.