The Supreme Court is correct in restoring the size of pictorial warnings on cigarette packs
Besides being oblivious to all the risks associated with tobacco use, a vast majority of consumers of bidi and chewing tobacco, from economically weaker sections, are not aware of anti-tobacco campaignseditorials Updated: Jan 11, 2018 08:20 IST
In a setback to the country’s $11 billion tobacco industry, the Supreme Court has put on hold a lower court’s order that overturned rules demanding larger health warnings on cigarette and bidi packages. Last month, the Karnataka High Court had struck down a central government rule mandating that 85% of a tobacco packet’s surface be covered in health warnings, up from 20% earlier. The decision comes as a relief for health advocates and the Union health ministry who say bigger health warnings deter tobacco consumption.
Introduced in April, 2016, large pictorial warnings were just one part of a combination of tobacco-control measures – which included raising taxes and banning the advertising of tobacco, smoking in public spaces and sale to minors — introduced in the country over the past decade. Protesting the health warning measures, the cigarette industry briefly shut its factories in 2016. A government survey conducted the Union Ministry of Health last year said 62% of cigarette smokers and 52% of bidi smokers had been compelled to think about quitting because of large warning labels on both sides of the packets
Tobacco use is the second largest cause of early death and chronic diseases, killing 6.4 million people worldwide in 2015, according to data from 195 countries published in the medical journal The Lancet. In India, tobacco causes 100,000 deaths every year, leading to one in 20 deaths in women and one in five deaths in men, estimates the Global Burden of Disease study published in The Lancet. The economic cost of all tobacco-related diseases was Rs 104,500 crore (US$22.4 billion) in 2011, estimated a report by the Ministry of Health on Economic Burden of Tobacco-related Diseases in India. Besides being oblivious to the risks associated with tobacco use, a vast majority of consumers of bidi and chewing tobacco, from economically weaker sections, are not aware of anti-tobacco campaigns. Larger images on both sides of the packet can be an effective weapon to communicate health risks to these people, and induce them to quit. Conversely, reducing the size of pictorial warnings will be a retrograde step in the fight against health hazards caused by tobacco. Apart from cancers, smoking can lead to chronic bronchitis, heart disease and stroke. In the case of pictorial warnings on cigarette packs, what you see is what you may get.