08 September 2010
By Kounteya Sinha
New Delhi, India
Tobacco Packs There Sport Gory Pictures, While India Eyes December Deadline
This is one thing that India can take a leaf out of Pakistan’s book. Pakistan has introduced gory pictorial warnings on all tobacco packs from August 30 in a bid to deter consumers from smoking or chewing tobacco.
While 30% of the tobacco packs shows a patient stricken with mouth cancer, 10% carries the warning text.
Gradually, the pictoral coverage will be increased to 50% as recommended by the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), an international treaty Pakistan signed and ratified in 2004.
The Indian health ministry’s public notification had made it would be mandatory for all such packs to carry the photograph of a cancer–stricken mouth from June 1. The present warning, considered too soft and counter–productive, will continue till the new one comes into vogue.
Pictorial warnings were enforced on May 31, 2009, after the Supreme Court intervened. As per the rules, pictorial warnings should be rotated every 12 months.
"The health ministry, forced by the tobacco lobby has decided to go ahead with the soft warnings till December 1," an official said.
The new warning was finalised after a field test by the Voluntary Health Association of India and Healis in seven states on the ministry’s request. An overwhelming 98% of respondents chose the picture of the cancer–stricken mouth as a substitute for the present one that depicts a lung and scorpion. Tobacco users felt that the replacement would help them quit smoking and chewing tobacco.
"The warnings cannot be soft. International experience has taught us warnings need to be big, scary and colourful. Only then do they catch the eye and deter people. In India, only 2% smokers quit," a ministry official said.
Presently, 9 lakh people in India die of tobacco–related diseases annually. At a conservative estimate, about 250 million people across the country usetobacco products like gutkha, cigarettes and bidis. Over 16% are cigarette smokers, while 44% smoke bidis.
Paking Quite A Punch
- Pakistan has made it mandatory for 40% of the space on all tobacco packs to carry the image of a rotting mouth suffering from cancer along with a health warning
- 30% of the space shows a patient stricken with mouth cancer and 10% carries the warning text. The space will rise to 50% soon
- In contrast, the pictures in Indian packets are not considered scary and the ‘soft warnings’ could be in place till Dec 1