New Delhi: Efforts to cut tobacco use with 85% pictorial warnings on all tobacco products appear defeated with the Karnataka high court on Friday striking down the Cigarette and other Tobacco Products (Packaging and Labelling) Amendment Rules, 2014.
The rules mandated 85% pictorial warnings on both sides of packages of cigarettes, bidis and all forms of chewing tobacco products.
Public health experts claim that the decision will impact India’s global image in tobacco control as efforts by the Indian government have been praised all across the world. J.P. Nadda, Union minister of health and family welfare was conferred the World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General’s Special Recognition Award for global tobacco control in June.
“The move will result in India’s global ranking for pictorial warnings to go back to 106th ranking in the world from its current 3rd position. Similar warnings on tobacco packs have been upheld by the courts in other countries (Sri Lanka, Thailand, Australia, UK, Canada, etc)," said Karnataka high court and Supreme Court advocate K.V. Dhananjay.
Public health experts and research studies claim that pictorial health warnings on tobacco products are the most cost-effective tool for educating on the health risks of tobacco use. The recently released Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) 2016-17 by the Union ministry of health and family welfare had put to rest all apprehensions about the effectiveness of the warnings, since 62% of cigarette smokers and 54% of bidi smokers shared that they had thought of quitting because of these warnings. And 46% of smokeless tobacco users thought of quitting because of warnings on smokeless tobacco products.
Such tobacco control efforts have saved 8.1 million lives in India as per GATS-2.
The latest rules had taken effect in April 2016 after a direction from the Rajasthan high court and subsequently from the Supreme Court of India. The court not only quashed these warnings but also directed implementation of earlier warnings covering only 20% of display area.
“In a country like India, where people use several languages and dialects, the pictorial warning transcends the language and in many case illiteracy barrier. Thanks to these images, there has been a change in perception, which is reason why 92% of adults surveyed under GATS believed smoking caused serious illness, and 96% said use of smokeless tobacco causes serious illness," said Bhavna Mukhopadhyay of Voluntary Health Association of India (VHAI).
“The GATS survey also found that there has been a growing demand for cessation centres as 55% of smokers and 50% of smokeless tobacco users were planning or thinking of quitting tobacco use," Mukhopadhyay said.
A ministry of health and family welfare and WHO-supported Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) study estimated that the total economic costs attributable to tobacco use from all diseases in India in 2011 amounted to over Rs1 lakh crore— 12% more than the combined state and central government expenditure on health care in the same year.