New Delhi: The government will go ahead with its decision to implement a rule requiring large pictorial warnings on tobacco products, said Amal Pushp, director (tobacco) in the ministry of health and family welfare (MoHFW).
He said that from 1 April, all tobacco products, including cigarettes, beedis and non-smoking tobacco, will have to contain pictorial warning covering 85% of the space on both sides of the packet.
“The ministry has issued a notification in February and we will continue with it," said the official. Currently only 40% of the packet area is to be covered with pictorial warnings.
Implementation of the new rules came under doubt after a parliamentary committee recommended earlier this month that the size should be increased to only 50%. Even though the committee’s recommendations are not binding on the government, its timing led to uncertainty regarding implementation of new rules.
The ministry had approved new rules in October 2014, but could not implement them due to strong opposition from the tobacco lobby. It was only on 19 February this year that a notification was issued to tobacco manufacturers, distributors and retailers to notify health warnings “covering 85% of the principle display area."
Doctors for Tobacco Control in India (DFTCI), an umbrella organization of groups advocating bigger pictorial warnings, wrote to health minister J.P. Nadda on 22 March, urging him to look into the matter after the parliamentary committee’s intervention.
“It is hugely disappointing to note that the Committee has repeatedly highlighted the ‘economic significance of tobacco’ in India, even in wake of recent evidence from a MoHFW report that treating tobacco related diseases costs India ₹ 104,500 crore rupees, which amounts to a whopping 1.16% of India’s GDP (gross domestic product)," read the letter submitted by DFTCI.
Last week, many international organizations such as the American Cancer Society, the Nossal Institute of Global Health at the University of Melbourne, and World Health Federation, wrote to the health minister with similar requests.