Buying cigarettes may not be a pleasant experience from December 1 as grim pictures of cancerous tumours or an ailing infant will be printed on the packet of your favourite brand.
Despite pressure from the bidi and gutkha industries, the pictures have been included as part of a government campaign against tobacco.
They will be used on packets of all tobacco products. “The revised Packaging and Labelling Rules, 2007, have been notified for the smoking and non-smoking forms of tobacco,” said Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss.
Following recommendations from a group of ministers – Pranab Mukherjee, Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, Oscar Fernandes, Kamal Nath, Jaipal Reddy and Ramadoss himself made up the panel – set up to review the “merits and demerits” of pictorial warnings, the skull-and-crossbones sign was dropped as also was the idea to give a picture of a dead body.
These were found too offensive. A tobacco product will now carry the warning “tobacco kills” along with a picture that shows one of the following - smoking causes cancer, your smoking kills babies, tobacco causes painful death and tobacco causes mouth cancer.
Over 250 million people in the country use tobacco products like gutka, cigarettes and bidis.
Tobacco kills at least 10 lakh people in India every year, said the Indian Council of Medical Research.
One in two Indian men and one in seven women uses tobacco, which causes 40 per cent of all cancers.
"Pictures definitely have an impact. Pictorial warnings will not only remind the user of the dangers (to him) but also to those around him or her, such as friends and family. Children, for example, can become a very strong pressure group by encouraging their parents to give up tobacco," Ramadoss said.
Countries that have introduced pictorial warnings include Canada, Brazil and Australia.
Graphic health warnings in Canada led to a 3 per cent drop in smoking. With 250 million tobacco consumers in India, a similar percentage drop would mean six million users less.
The graphic warnings would be implemented in phases. The Packaging and Labelling Rules, 2007, would also ban advertisements of tobacco products, selling to minors and stopping depiction of tobacco use on films and television.