India has made it mandatory for graphic health warnings to cover 85% of tobacco packages on both sides beginning April 1, 2015.
The new 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, and the text warning will be 25%.
The warning will be English and/or the language the brand is sold under. The notification has been issued today.
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, covering a mere 20% of the entire packet.
"India issued a notification today making it mandatory for tobacco companies to cover 85% space on tobacco packages with pictoral warnings and pictures," announced Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan on Wednesday.
"Tobacco use only means death. I have seen this closely, the health effects of tobacco as ENT surgeon," he said.
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More than a million people die due to tobacco each year, estimates the Indian Council of Medical Research.
The new 85% coverage ties India at first place with Thailand in the international ranking of 198 countries listed according to the size of their health warnings. Australia's warnings are 82.5% (75% front, 90% back), Uruguay 85% and Nepal and Canada 75%.
"This announcement puts India at the top, with Tails d. Graphic warnings are an outstanding measure to reduce tobacco use without any extra cost to governments," said Dr Rob Cunningham, author of the Canadian Cancer Society's Cigarette Package Health Warnings: International Status Report released in Moscow on Tuesday. Before the announcement, India ranked 136th, with several countries implementing stronger warnings.
"Studies around the world show that large, graphic warnings are most effective at informing consumers about the health risks of smoking," said Vandana Shah, director, South Asia Programs, Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids.
Tobacco kills up to half of its users, killing nearly 6 million people- one death every 6 seconds- globally each year. Unchecked, tobacco-related deaths from cancers, heart disease, lung diseases and stroke, among others, is expected to increase to over 8 million annually by 2030, 1.5 million of them in Indi Despite bans on advertising, sale to minors and smoking in public places, more than one in three adults use some form of tobacco in India.
"Tobacco companies will sue, they always do, but India will win," says Prof Prakrit Vathesatogkit, advisor to the ministry of health, Thailand.