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PM’s intervention sought to increase pictorial warning on tobacco products

Monday, March 28, 2016
By Raju Vernekar

While Parliamentary Committee on Subordinate Legislation (PCSL), has recommended 50 per cent pictorial warnings (PWs) on both sides of cigarettes packets, over 600 doctors across the country have urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi, to stick to 85 per cent PWs on tobacco products, to save    millions of people from tobacco related diseases.

In a letter dated March 24 addressed to PM and Union Health Minister J. P. Nadda, the doctors cutting across specialties, have requested the Government to prevent powerful tobacco lobby from subverting the anti tobacco measures. The letter reminds the PM of his message posted on the “Face book” on 31st May 2014 – “Let’s pledge to spread awareness on the risks of tobacco consumption and work towards reduction of tobacco consumption in India. Tobacco not only affects those consuming it, but also people around. By saying no to tobacco, let us lay the foundation of a healthier India”.

India’s health warnings policy was drafted in 2006. A final set of health warnings were released in 2008 and were implemented on all cigarette packages on May 31, 2009. Two warnings were rotated on cigarette packages and a separate warning was rotated on all smokeless tobacco products.

In 2011, Union Health Ministry proposed an amendment to the rules which included 4 additional pictorial warnings to be used on tobacco and bidi packages, and 4 additional pictorial warnings for smokeless packages. Implementation of these rules began on December 1, 2011 and allowed tobacco companies to choose any one picture out of each set of 4 images for smoking and smokeless tobacco products.

On September 27, 2012, the Union Health Ministry, proposed a new round of picture warnings effective April 1, 2013. A set of 3 new pictorial warnings were developed for smoked tobacco products, and a separate set of 3 new warnings were developed for smokeless tobacco products. Health warnings were required to cover 40 per cent of the front of all cigarette packages.

On October 15, 2014, the government proposed the use of larger warnings that cover 85 per cent of the front and back of the pack. The increase in the size of the pictorial warnings was initially planned to come into effect from April 1, 2015, but was opposed by industry, and the deadline was extended by the government.

However ahead of the April 1,2016 deadline, for increasing pictorial warnings from 40 to 85 per cent, the 15-member committee headed by BJP MP Dilip Gandhi( Ahmednagar, Maharashtra)  recommended that pictorial warnings be restricted to only 50 per cent on both the sides of the cigarette packets. It stated that "the proposed graphic warnings have potential to severely affect Indian farmers and companies and harsh on the tobacco industry and will result in flooding of illicit cigarettes”.

In the case of bidis, chewing tobacco and other tobacco products, the committee recommended that the warning be restricted to 50 per cent of the display area and on only one side of the packet.  It said that in the case bidis, there would be “virtually no space left for printing the brand name and logo, if 85 per cent of area is earmarked for printing the warning. But the committee did not explain the logic for restricting the warning to only one side in the case of chewing tobacco products.

Dr Pankaj Chaturvedi, Professor and Surgeon at Tata Memorial Hospital, who is one of the signatories to the letter sent to PM, said that “The FB message of Modi shows his personal commitment for this important public health issue. Plethora of medical evidence have proven beyond doubt that tobacco is the only consumer product that has no good use except causing disease, disability and death. We are very hopeful that the PM will do the best for the health of the nation”.

Dr Ashok Dhoble, Secretary, Indian Dental Association said “It is established that large pictorial warnings cuts down tobacco consumption. That is why the entire tobacco lobby has united to subvert the notification."

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