Pictorial warnings still missing from cigarette and chewing tobacco packets

No tobacco product sampled in Delhi had new warning mandated from April 1, says survey by non-profit

By Kundan Pandey
Published: Tuesday 02 April 2013

In a random survey conducted in New Delhi on Monday, manufacturers of tobacco products were found to have ignored the rule requiring them to include pictorial warnings on the packaging of tobacco products. This despite having been given more than six months to enforce the rule laid down by the health ministry.

According to the notification issued by the ministry on September 27, 2012, all packages of tobacco products must carry new pictorial health warnings. The mandatory modifications included the insertion of the word ‘warning’ in red font, and maintaining a ratio of 0.75:1 between the vertical length and horizontal length of the warning so as to ensure pictures are not distorted with a change in size of the packs.

Packages of all smoking and smokeless tobacco products are required to carry the new pictorial health warnings from April 1, 2013. The notification specifies that retailers and distributors who fail to comply will face legal consequences –a fine of up to to Rs. 1,000, imprisonment up to one year, or both – under Section 20 of Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act, 2003 (COTPA). Manufacturers of tobacco products may be fined up to Rs. 5,000, imprisonment up to two years, or both on the first conviction.

Voluntary Health Association of India (VHAI), the organisation that conducted the survey, revealed that packets of neither cigarettes, bidis, nor any other smokeless tobacco products have the new pictorial warnings.  Volunteers of VHAI sampled packages from 50 shops at different locations in the capital,  including Saket, Laxmi Nagar, Mayur Vihar, Lajpat Nagar, Green Park, Hauz Khas and New Friends Colony.

Executive Director of VHAI, Bhavna Mukhopadhyay said, “Tobacco companies have been given more than ample time to ensure new pictorial warnings are printed on tobacco packets. A snap survey of 40 – 50 retail outlets by VHAI today, however reveals that no cigarette, gutka or bidi packets have the new picture warnings. It is now time that enforcement agencies within the government ensure effective compliance and bring violators to book.”

India ranks 123 among 198 countries surveyed on warning size and fulfilment of requirements for picture-based warnings on cigarette packets according to the International Status Report on Pictorial Health Warnings released last year.

According to the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) India Report 2009-10, of the 34.6 per cent of adults who are currently tobacco users, 25.9 per cent use smokeless forms of tobacco (206 million users). Of this, 30.7 per cent are rural users and 15 per cent are urban users. Among the 20.3 percent of female tobacco users, 18.4 percent use smokeless forms of tobacco.

Around 4,000 different chemicals present in tobacco and more than 60 of these are known carcinogens. The use of tobacco both in smoking and smokeless forms cause a host of different forms of cancer, heart disease and pulmonary disease – all of which are debilitating and potentially fatal. People exposed to second-hand tobacco smoke (passive smoking) are also at risk. 

One-fifth of all worldwide deaths attributed to tobacco occur in India. It is estimated that more than 0.8 million people die and 12 million people fall ill due to tobacco use each year. The World Health Organisation predicts that tobacco deaths in India may exceed 1.5 million annually by 2020.

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