Even after a month, tobacco pictorial warnings not as per law

Even after a month, tobacco pictorial warnings not as per law

The pictorial warnings on ALL tobacco products should have come into force since 31 May 2009, as per the Government of India notification (3 May 2009). But even after more than a month of the legally binding deadline, very few tobacco products are showing pictorial warnings on their packets in Lucknow city.

Representatives from the civil society organizations today on 3 July 2009 toured the city to conduct a SOCIAL AUDIT on to what extent which tobacco products are displaying the pictorial warnings. A factsheet card in Hindi language for pictorial warnings on tobacco products which was earlier released by Professor (Dr) Rama Kant, Head of Surgery Department, Chhattrapati Shahuji Maharaj Medical University (CSMMU) at the UP Press Club in Lucknow on 29 May 2009, was also distributed to the people. Professor (Dr) Rama Kant is also a World Health Organization (WHO) Director General’s International Awardee for the year 2005 on tobacco control.

The team conducting the social audit reviewed whether tobacco products in 50 tobacco retail shops randomly selected in Lucknow were selling tobacco products with pictorial warnings, whether these warnings occupy 40% of the front side of the pack, whether the warning is in the same language as that of other text printed on the pack, whether the warning reads in the same direction as other text printed on the pack, among other points.

Some of the findings of the people’s social audit include:

- Even though more than a month has passed by, very few tobacco products are displaying pictorial warnings.
- Only some brands of gutkha and beedies are printing the pictorial warnings, although mostly not as per the norms laid out by the notification of Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India
- Most cigarettes, local and foreign made, are not displaying the pictorial warnings yet, barring very few exceptions
- The pictorial warning is not covering 40% of the front side of the tobacco pack – mostly there is a WHITE area that covers 40% and in that white area, a small portion is the official and legally binding pictorial warning. Mostly 10-30% of the front side of the pack is covered by the warning only, if at all.

- On one of the brands of Beedi, the warning is very small, and also reads in the REVERSE direction (opposite direction to other text printed on the pack)
- Only one brand of cigarette (in the entire social audit) was found to have 40% area dedicated to the pictorial warning, and warning conforming to the norms laid out by the government’s notification

“India ratified the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), the first international public health treaty of the World Health Organization (WHO) in February 2004 and is a Party to the convention. According to FCTC, the deadline for India to implement pictorial health warning was February 27, 2008. Even one month after the pictorial warnings became mandatory in India (on 31 May 2009), still so many tobacco products in India do not carry any pictorial health warnings and those that do carry, are not enforcing it strictly as per the norms laid out by the Health Ministry. Also FCTC recommends 30 % as minimum size of display of pictorial health warnings i.e. 30% front and 30% back, which India has again not complied with” said WHO Awardee (2005) Prof (Dr) Rama Kant.

Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of disease and death in the world. According to the World Health Organization, each year 5.4 million lives are lost all over the world because of tobacco use. Out of these 9 lakh deaths occur in India alone. 2500 Indians lose their lives each day because of tobacco use. India has the highest number of oral cancer cases in the world and 90% of all oral cancers are tobacco related and 40% of all cancers in India are due to tobacco use.