Karnataka HC ruling on pictorial warnings on tobacco is a setback to public health
In India, tobacco causes 100,000 deaths each year, leading to one in 20 deaths in women and one in five deaths in men.editorials Updated: Dec 19, 2017 18:58 IST
The Karnataka High Court’s ruling that makes 85% pictorial warnings on tobacco products unconstitutional is a major setback to public health. Introduced on April 1, 2016, large pictorial warnings were the newest in a slew of tobacco-control measures – which included raising taxes and banning advertising, smoking in public spaces and sale to minors — propagated in India over the past decade. These measures, aimed at discouraging people from starting tobacco use and nudging smokers to quit, helped reduce tobacco consumption in India by 6% in seven years. Tobacco use fell from 34.6% in 2009-10 to 28.6% in 2016-17, with 810,000 fewer people using tobacco despite population growth, shows data from the Global Adult Tobacco Survey 2017. The fall was the sharpest in young people (15-24 years), with tobacco use falling by 33%, from 18.4% in 2010 to 12.4% in 2017.
Tobacco is the only legally sold substance that kills when used as directed. Tobacco use is the second biggest cause of early death and chronic diseases, killing 6.4 million people worldwide in 2015, according to data from 195 countries published in The Lancet. Apart from cancers, smoking causes chronic bronchitis, heart disease and stroke. It also kills those who don’t smoke, with exposure to second-hand smoke killing 890,000 non-smokers each year, estimates the World Health Organisation. In India, tobacco causes 100,000 deaths each year, leading to one in 20 deaths in women and one in five deaths in men.
India is the world’s second-largest producer of tobacco, producing 800 million kg each year, and farmer and industry groups say lowering use will result in India losing more than Rs 34,000 crore in tax revenues and affect the livelihoods of 45.7 million people. The Parliamentary Committee on Subordinate Legislation also challenged the Union health ministry’s notification, dated September 24, 2015, that made 85% pictorial warnings mandatory calling it “too harsh” and recommended the pictorial warning size be reduced to 50%. The economic costs of all tobacco-related diseases was Rs 104,500 crore (US$22.4 billion) in 2011, estimated a report by the Union Ministry of Health on Economic Burden of Tobacco-related Diseases in India. The simple fact is that there is no safe level of tobacco use.