Pictorial health warnings on tobacco products from 30th May

Pictorial health warnings on tobacco products from 30th May

The long pending pictorial or graphic health warnings on all tobacco products in India shall finally be impelmented from 30 May 2009. This is in line with the Cigarette and other Tobacco Products Act and the global tobacco treaty which India has ratified (World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control).

Earlier this week, the Additional Solicitor General Gopal Subramanium had assured a bench headed by Justice BN Aggarwal in the Court after senior counsel Indira Jaisingh, appearing for NGO Health for Millions, alleged the Centre was dragging its feet on the issue.

Earlier this month, the Group of Ministers (GoM) on tobacco warnings were supposed to meet on 8 April 2009 and further dilution or delay to pictorial health warnings on tobacco products was apprehended by many health activists. However the meeting didn't take place.

Also, a survey conducted in four Indian States by Healis Sekhsaria Institute for Public Health and Voluntary Healh Association of India (VHAI) reports 98% of public supporting the pack warnings and 99% supporting government action to strengthen health warnings requiring them to be large and including pictures of all tobacco products.

Pictorial warnings on tobacco products are intended to increase consumer knowledge of the deadly health effects of tobacco consumption, to encourage cessation and to discourage uptake. In India they also break the linguistic and cultural barrier, in addition to informing the illiterate population (a large proportion of this segment smokes bidis) about the harmful effects of tobacco use.

Before going to the 3rd Conference of Parties (COP3) to the FCTC, the Indian Ministry of Health and Family Welfare had revealed before the Central Information Commission that tobacco industry is putting "pressure" to relax the tobacco control policies (source: The Hindu, 14 November 2008). The Preamble of the global tobacco treaty, indicates that Parties “need to be alert to any efforts by the tobacco industry to undermine or subvert tobacco control efforts and the need to be informed of activities of the tobacco industry that have a negative impact on tobacco control efforts”. Further, Article 5.3 of the FCTC requires that “in setting and implementing their public health policies with respect to tobacco control, Parties should act to protect these policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry in accordance with the national law.”

Hope the authorities will not dilute or delay the implementation of this health policy any further, and stick to their commitment to enforce the pictorial health warnings on tobacco products by 30th May 2009.

- Bobby Ramakant