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Smoke signals

world Updated: Jun 07, 2009 00:47 IST
Sanchita Sharma
Sanchita Sharma
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

Statutory Warning: Cigarette Smoking is Injurious to Health. Now that’s the warning all of us have read countless times without registering. Sure, everyone knows smoking is bad, that it causes lung cancer in an unlucky few and heart attacks in some others, but few give thought to how it can kill a non-smoking partner (secondhand smoke kills) or an unborn child (It is well established that smoking not only causes impotence but also abortions).
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This is set to change. Over the next few weeks, the negatives of smoking will stare smokers in the face every time theyhttp://www.hindustantimes.com/news/images/007.jpg light up. From May 31, all tobacco products in India have to carry graphic warnings with the message: Tobacco Kills/Smoking kills: Tobacco causes cancer. The new packs, with one of three selected pictures — one of a scorpion and two of diseased lungs — are expected in six weeks.

The move is expected to shock people into realising that tobacco kills and prompt them to quit or not start smoking.

In India, 57 per cent men and 10.9 per cent women use some form of tobacco, which kills 10 lakh people — 2500 people die each day — each year.

India is not the only country to introduce these grim reminders. While Canada, Australia and Thailand already carry graphic warnings, the UK plans to use 15 new health warnings on packs starting October 1, 2009.

Switzerland will carry three sets of 14 images that will be rotated starting in 2010, 2012 and 2014, along with a national quit line number on each pack operated by the Swiss Cancer League.

In 2004, Brazil made it mandatory for all packs to carry: “This product contains more than 4,700 toxic substances and nicotine which causes physical or psychic dependence. No safe levels exist for the consumption of these substances.”

In Canada, graphic warnings have already contributed to an overall 3 per cent drop in smoking rates. In India, a similar drop in numbers would translate into 6 million people quitting tobacco.

The impact of warnings among young smokers was the greatest, with smoking rates among 15 to 19 year olds falling from 29 per cent in 2002 to 19 per cent in 2007. A school-based study in Australia (V White, Addiction, 2008) reported that graphic warning labels on cigarette packs are noticed by most adolescents and helped to reduce smoking among them.

“Pictorial warnings are a huge opportunity for health messaging. It prevents young people from starting to smoke and makes smokers consider quitting. A pack-a-day smoker is exposed to images at least 20 times a day and even single-stick buyers will see them at the point of purchase,” says Monika Arora, director, Hriday, an advocacy group that runs tobacco-awareness campaigns across the country.

This is borne out by research. A four-country study comparing warning label data from Australia, Canada, the UK and the US (D Hammond, American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 2007) found that 84 per cent of smokers in Canada, where pictorial warnings are required, considered labels as a source of health information, compared with 47 per cent in the US, where text-only labels are required.