Better Late Than Never: Green signal to new stronger pictorial warnings on tobacco products

Although 1.5 years late in India - pictorial warnings on tobacco products will be rotated as per law
New pictorial warnings:
to be implemented by 1 Dec 2011
This old adage aptly describes the Indian government order to change the existing pictorial warnings on cigarette and tobacco packs. The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has issued a gazette notification on 27.5.2011 ordering for the replacement of the existing mild pictorial warnings with more grotesque, scary and effective ones with effect from 1st December 2011. This much needed order has not come a day early, after several deferments due to lack of political will on one hand and intense lobbying by the tobacco industry on the other hand. The existing pictorial warnings had come into being on May 31, 2009. So it will be after close to two and a half years that they will be rotated and replaced by scarier pictures of cancerous mouths/cheeks of men and women and diseased lungs of a man as per the Cigarette and other Tobacco Products Act, 2003.

The pictures will be accompanied by a text message written in bold capital letters stating that SMOKING KILLS or TOBACCO KILLS.

Several anti tobacco groups had been trying very hard to get the warnings rotated with a view to improve their effectiveness in curbing the menace of tobacco. Even the common person on the street had found them to be too soft to have any meaningful visual effect on the consumer. So, one should be thankful for this birthday gift on the occasion of, and just ahead of, World No Tobacco Day, which falls on Tuesday, May 31, 2011.

Pictorial health warning labels effectively communicate the risks of tobacco use. Extensive research from across the globe has established that effective health warnings increase knowledge about risks associated with tobacco use and can decrease intentions to use tobacco among vulnerable youth and persuade tobacco users to quit. Graphic warnings have a greater impact than text-only ones and can be recognized by low-literacy audiences and children-two vulnerable population groups. The warnings have been introduced in several developing and countries such as Thailand, Singapore, Brazil, Chile, South Africa and others.

It is not only on this front of pictorial warnings that the government has shown its lackadaisical
attitude, in so much as effective tobacco control methods are concerned. Despite promulgation of the Cigarette and Other Tobacco Products Act (COTPA), 2003, the poison of tobacco and cigarette smoke continues to take its toll of innocent lives. On its part, the government has failed to implement the law in its true spirit. Tobacco/cigarette shops continue to dot the areas close to educational institutions, minors continue to sell and buy tobacco products with impunity, gutkha/pan masala chewing and spitting continues to plague our cities, and the peddlers of death continue unabated with their brisk business.

We are still talking of smoke free cities, whereas we should be aiming at tobacco free cities. The menace of gutkha/ khaini/ pan masala chewing is increasing at an alarming rate amongst all strata of society without any gender bias. This has resulted in a spurt of oral cancer cases. But those who are hooked to it, find the addiction too strong to be got rid off. Smoking in pubs, offices and other public places has definitely reduced, but the chewing tobacco syndrome shows no signs of receding.

What is needed is a stronger commitment of the government towards the health of its citizens and a better understanding on the part of consumers about the importance of leading a healthy nicotine free life.

Shobha Shukla - CNS
(The author is the Editor of Citizen News Service (CNS). She is a J2J Fellow of National Press Foundation (NPF) USA. She is also the Director of CNS Gender Initiative and CNS Diabetes Media Initiative (CNS-DMI). She has worked earlier with State Planning Institute, UP. Email:, website:

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