New Delhi: Large pictorial warnings, taking up 85% of packets of tobacco products will continue till 31 August after the health ministry Tuesday extended the duration of existing health warnings, the tenure of which was to end on 31 March.

The Union health ministry had notified on 24 September 2015, for mandatory display of new health warnings covering 85% of the principal display area on all tobacco products from 1 April 2016, which were implemented in April last year.

As per the rules laid down under the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act (COTPA), during the rotation period of 24 months, two images of specified health warnings as notified in the Schedule, shall be displayed on all tobacco product packages and each of the images shall appear consecutively on the package with an interregnum period of 12 months, the notification issued earlier read.

“...if the specified health warnings provided are not amended by the central government with new specified health warnings at the end of the rotation period for the next rotation period, then the existing specified health warnings for the second twelve months shall continue for a further period till the 31st day of August, 2018," according to an amendment in the Cigarettes and other Tobacco Products (Packaging and Labelling) Rules, 2008 brought in by the ministry on Tuesday.

The Supreme Court earlier stayed an order by the Karnataka high court which struck down a regulation that tobacco product packages must have a pictorial warning covering 85% of the space. As a result, tobacco companies will have to go back to carrying a pictorial warning covering 85% on both sides of tobacco products. The current pictorial warnings on both sides of all tobacco packages of cigarettes, bidis and all forms of chewing tobacco products came into effect from April 2016 upon the direction of Rajasthan high court and subsequently Supreme Court of India and have been in effect for almost two years.

The recently released Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) 2016-17 by the health ministry 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 the 85% pictorial warnings on the packets. And 46% of smokeless tobacco users thought of quitting because of the warnings on smokeless tobacco products.

Pictorial health warnings on tobacco products are the most cost-effective tool for educating on the health risks of tobacco use, the survey said.

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