Stop tobacco industry interference in public health policy: Implement new pictorial warnings, ban on Gutkha

Despite government notification dated 27th September 2012 to rotate new effective and powerful pictorial health warnings on ALL tobacco products from 1st April 2013, the tobacco industry has once again not acted upon in timely manner. In the past, our government has held the dubious distinction of deferring and/or diluting these warnings, not once but several times under immense lobbying/pressure from the tobacco industry. The Health Ministry said to the Central Information Commission in November 2008 that it is tobacco industry pressure that is not letting it implement tobacco control health policies effectively.

India became a signatory to the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) in February 2004, and is required to comply with pictorial warnings’ protocols as per the global tobacco treaty. According to the WHO, large, graphic health warning labels on tobacco packages are an essential component of a national strategy to reduce tobacco use. WHO FCTC Article 5.3 clearly empowers governments to protect public health policy from tobacco industry interference.

Under the Cigarettes and other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Act, 2003 (COTPA 2003), statutory warnings were introduced by government of India on all tobacco products in 2005. But it was evident that this measure alone was not sufficient to reduce the use of tobacco. Consequently, the government notified rules on pictorial warnings first on July 5, 2006. However, the actual implementation of these rules was postponed repeatedly, apparently because of pressure exerted by the tobacco companies. The first and existing pictorial warnings had come into being on 31 May 2009 and were ridiculously mild and ineffective.

COTPA mandates rotating pictorial health warnings after every year. But first rotation and change of pictorial warnings could only happen after TWO AND A HALF YEARS, on 1st December 2011. Now third change of pictorial warnings was supposed to take place after nearly one and a half years from 1st April 2013. As per the COTPA, 40% of the front face of tobacco packets should have pictorial health warnings.

As per the government notification issued on 27th September 2012, the word 'WARNING' has to be in RED colour which it currently is not.

Tobacco industry had more than SIX months from 27th September 2012 to implement powerful pictorial warnings from 1st April 2013, and comply by the law. But it has once again failed to do so, defeating public health measures taken by the government.

When a large proportion of the population is illiterate, written warnings may be ignored, but not strong pictorial warnings. It is a good public health strategy which costs the government and the public nothing because the cost of the colourful and powerful package warning will be met by the tobacco companies.

Also FOREIGN-MADE CIGARETTE BRANDS (such as Indonesia-made Gudang Garam) being sold in Lucknow MUST carry these pictorial warnings which currently they are not.

Hope the government will not only strictly enforce the ban on Gutkha, but also ensure all forms of tobacco products are complying with the government notification on pictorial warnings dated 27th September 2012.

These statements were given by Dr Sandeep Pandey, Professor (Dr) Rama Kant, Shobha Shukla, Rahul Dwivedi, Mukta Srivastava, Ritesh Arya, Bobby Ramakant on behalf of  Vote For Health campaign, Asha Parivar, CNS, National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM).

Citizen News Service - CNS