Starting June 1, all cigarette, bidi and gutkha packets will carry prominent pictorial health warnings. The move isn't coming a day too soon - official statistics show every second man and every seventh woman in India is a tobacco-user.
"In our country, 46.5 per cent men and 13.8 per cent women use tobacco, which causes 40 per cent of all cancers," Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss told HT.
"To encourage people to quit tobacco, all cigarette, bidi and gutkha packs will carry pictorial health warnings from June 1. We need graphic warnings,because many tobacco users are illiterate and cannot read the health warning," Ramadoss said.
From June 1, the packs will carry pictures of an ulcerated mouth, a lung tumour, a brain after a stroke, a damaged heart and, as part of a warning that smoking causes impotence, a limp cigarette.
About 250 million people in India use tobacco products like gutkha, cigarettes and bidis. Sixteen per cent are cigarette smokers, 44 per cent smoke bidis and the rest use gutkha, mishri (roasted black tobacco powder applied to the gums) and chewing tobacco in betel-quid. Consumption of tobacco leads to a million deaths every year in India, according to the Indian Council of Medical Research.
"Pictures definitely have an impact. Pictorial warnings will not only remind the tobacco user of the dangers but also those around them, such as friends and family. Children, for example, can become strong pressure group to encourage their parents to give up tobacco use," Ramadoss said.
Countries like Canada, Brazil and Australia already use graphic warnings to discourage smoking. They led to a 3 per cent drop in smoking in Canada — which can translate to 6 million people giving up tobacco in India if the same figure is applied.
"Everyone knows that smoking causes lung cancer, what some don't know is that it also causes impotence, birth defects, heart attacks and strokes. Graphic health warnings covering over 50 per cent of tobacco packaging will let people know the risks they are running when they smoke or chew tobacco," Ramadoss said.
Graphic warnings are mandatory under the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Packaging and Labelling) Rules, which are being implemented in phases.