New Delhi: Health warnings should cover 85% of the principal display area on cigarette packaging, the ministry of health and family welfare said in a notification on Wednesday.

Sixty percent of the display area will be covered by pictures displaying the damage done by smoking and 25% by text, said the notification. No messages or pictures that promote the consumption of tobacco will be allowed on the box and the language of the warning will be that in which the brand name will appear.

The rule will take effect on 1 April next year.

“We have been working to make tobacco control laws more effective and stringent," health minister Harsh Vardhan, a doctor by training, said on the sidelines of an event to mark global handwashing day.

“Tobacco means only death. I have seen this closely in over three decades of my career as an ENT (ear, nose, throat) surgeon," Vardhan added.

In June, Vardhan asked finance minister Arun Jaitley for an increase in tax on cigarettes of all lengths by 2 to 3.5 as well as removal of tax exemption granted to bidi makers. In the July budget, the government increased excise duty in the range of 11-72% on different types of cigarettes.

India ranks last among the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (Saarc) countries in enforcing graphic health warnings on both sides of cigarette packages as mandated by the World Health Organization (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

The country ranks 136th in a list of 198 countries on the size of health warning carried on cigarette packages, according to the recently released The Cigarette Package Health Warnings: International Status Report 2014.

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