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World No Tobacco Day: Did the 85% graphic warning on tobacco products really warn you?

Most people in India prefer to buy loose cigarettes, thus making the warning on the cigarette packages irrelevant. A year after being implemented, the warning has failed to dent sales at city’s cigarette shops

fitness Updated: May 31, 2017 18:52 IST
Simran Tandon
Simran Tandon
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
World No Tobacco Day,Tobacco,Tobacco Graphic Warning
Large pictorial warnings help in reducing the number of children who take up smoking and increasing the number of people who want to quit.(Representational Photo)

When was the last time you bought a pack of cigarettes and really saw the graphic warning? According to pan-wallas across the city most of their customers buy loose cigarettes and don’t even encounter the 85% pictorial health warning made mandatory by the Ministry of Health in April last year.

Large pictorial warnings help in reducing the number of children who take up smoking and increasing the number of people who want to quit, according to the World Health Organisation.

“Health warnings on tobacco products are the most cost-effective tool for educating on the health risks of tobacco use, and we have several studies from India to prove it,” said a public health expert. In a country like India, where people use several languages and dialects, the pictorial warning transcends the language barrier.

The gruesome images of cancer affected patients on packs of tobacco products has hardly dented their sale almost a year after the implantation of the big 85% warnings.

“Most of the people buy loose cigarettes, so they don’t even see the boxes. And, the regular smokers, who buy full packs, prefer to carry it in fancy cases, throwing away the original pack immediately after buying,” said Santosh, who has been running a pan-shop in Connaught Place for 15 years.

“Many complain about how the images have become larger and more repulsive, but that doesn’t stop them from taking what they want. They complain, cringe and continue consuming,” said Gaurav, who runs the shop next door.

All that the health warnings did was confuse the pan-wallah. “With the 85% warning, all the cigarette packs started looking the same. Initially, I would always mistake the brands. I had to open several boxes before I could hand over the loose cigarette of a particular brand to my regulars,” said S. Suresh, a cigarette shop owner in Jangpura.

There was a dip in sales immediately after the warnings, but it has picked up again. “There was almost a 25% drop in sales of tobacco products right after the 85% warning came into effect. It has picked up now more or less. But, there are many, who have switched to buying loose cigarettes instead of packs now,” said VK Jain, another vendor.

“There is a need to strengthen and target the health messages in a better way to ensure they reach all smokers, including those buying loose cigarettes and bidis,” the public health expert said.

First Published: May 31, 2017 18:48 IST