Tobacco products will carry larger pictorial warnings covering 85% of the packaging space as a central notification came into effect from Friday, notwithstanding a parliamentary panel’s recommendation for a drastic reduction in the size of the visual message.
The health ministry’s notification of September 24, 2015, for implementation of the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Packaging and Labelling) Amendment Rules, 2014, comes into from April 1. These prescribe larger pictorial warnings on tobacco products.
The ministry had made a commitment to Rajasthan high court on March 28 that it will implement the said rules from April 1, 2016.
The parliamentary committee on Subordinate Legislation had described as “too harsh” the government’s proposal that 85% of the packaging surface carry pictorial warnings and recommended that the message occupy 50% of the space.
The stand had evoked sharp criticism from MPs and health experts.
In its report submitted to Lok Sabha, committee chairman Dilip Gandhi justified the recommendations, saying it was urged that the size of the warnings be increased from the present 40 to 50%. “The committee is of the view that in order to have a balanced approach, the warning on cigarette packets should be 50% on both sides of the principal display area instead of 85% of the principal display area as it will be too harsh and result in the flooding of illicit cigarettes in the country,” the committee said in the report.
Health ministry has also informed Rajasthan high court that its legislative authority is examining the observations/recommendations of the Parliamentary Committee on Subordinate Legislation.
The images of specified health warnings were uploaded on the official website of the health ministry and a public notice was also issued on February 19, 2016, in all leading national and regional newspapers to facilitate enforcement of the new specified health warnings from April 1.
“It is further submitted that observations/recommendations of the Committee on Subordinate Legislation, 16th Lok Sabha, as contained in its eleventh report submitted to Lok Sabha on March 15, 2016, are under examination of the Legislative Authority in the Ministry,” it further said.
Incidentally, India is ranked 136 out of 198 countries according to the international status report on Cigarette Package Health Warnings, 2014.
Nepal has stipulated packaging with 90% space devoted to pictorial warnings, Thailand and Pakistan 85%, Sri Lanka 80% and, most recently, Myanmar 75%.