Ahmedabad/New Delhi: Indian cigarette and beedi makers including ITC Ltd, the country’s biggest tobacco company, have halted production over a health ministry order that every pack they sell should carry a stark image of mouth cancer as a deterrent to smokers
The dispute has put at risk the livelihood of millions of workers who roll beedis in the country, according to the industry.
The order, specifying that smoking forms of tobacco carry images of a cancer-affected mouth with the warning “smoking kills” and “tobacco causes mouth cancer”, came into force on Wednesday, said the health ministry. A copy of the notification was posted on the ministry’s website.
Until now, makers of tobacco products have been carrying an image purported to be that of cancer-ridden lungs with the warning that “smoking kills” and “tobacco causes cancer” without specifying the form of cancer that smokers risked. The health ministry thinks a pictorial warning of mouth cancer can be a tougher deterrent.
India had nearly 70,000 diagnosed cases of cancers of the mouth in 2008, the highest in the world, according to statistics compiled by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, Bloomberg reported on Tuesday.
“We halted production indefinitely yesterday,” said Udayan Lal, director of the Tobacco Institute of India, an industry body. “We have sought a clarification from the health ministry.”
A spokesman for ITC confirmed that India’s biggest cigarette maker had stopped production over the order. ITC sold 84 billion sticks in fiscal 2010, reversing a 3% decline in the previous year. In value terms, the company saw a 14% rise in cigarette sales to Rs17,278 crore.
Around 150,000 workers from 450 beedi factories in West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh have been left jobless since Wednesday because of the central government’s notification on the graphic health warnings, according to the All India Bidi Industry Federation.
If the ambiguity continues, more than seven million workers employed by 1,000 beedi factories across the country will lose their livelihood, according to the association.
“As prescribed by a group of ministers (GoM) in the central government, Indian beedi industry was printing the pictorial health warnings on beedi packs,” said Rajnikant Patel, president of the federation, who is based in Ahmedabad.
He said the GoM had not withdrawn the pictorial warnings it had suggested earlier while the health ministry has notified that products that do not carry the mouth cancer image and warning cannot be sold.
“We are going to the health ministry tomorrow (Friday) and will try to meet the minister for health Ghulam Nabi Azad and request him to come out with a clear stand,” said M.A. Rahman, a member of the All India Bidi Industry Federation and general manager of Kolkata-based Pataka Industries (Pvt.) Ltd, which manufactures and supplies beedis in most of northern India.