Deferring pictorial warnings on tobacco items to escalate virus risk1 min read . Updated: 04 Aug 2020, 08:19 AM IST
The delay negates health ministry’s own advisory while adversely impacting motivation of tobacco users
NEW DELHI : The Union health ministry has deferred implemention of its new pictorial health warning for tobacco products even as it sends out advisories to all states to prohibit their sale and use in public places in view of the coronavirus crisis.
The new warnings will be enforced from 1 December instead of 1 September.
The health ministry recently issued an advisory saying consumption of cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, paan masala and similar products during the covid-19 pandemic can increase the risk and severity of pulmonary infections and a decrease in pulmonary immune functions.
The ministry also issued a notification on 13 April notifying new sets of pictorial health warnings on all tobacco products from 1 September. However, it issued another notification on 21 July, delaying implementation until 1 December.
Public health experts said that in the new notification, the warning has been watered down by the removal of the definition of a package, which had been specifically inserted to facilitate action against point-of-sale (PoS) displays on cigarette cartons.
Ironically, the delay comes amid an extensive drive across India to discourage tobacco use to contain spread of covid-19 as well as non-communicable diseases, mainly cancer.
“By delaying the next round of pictorial warnings on tobacco products, the health ministry is not only contradicting its own advisory to hold back tobacco use during the covid-19 pandemic, it is adversely impacting the motivation of tobacco users to quit while being in conducive environment socially," said Dr Rakesh Gupta, a consultant working for Tobacco Cessation.
“As quitting in higher numbers definitely reduces the demand of tobacco products, is this repeat deferment under pressure of tobacco industry or its front groups?" he asked.
Tobacco is consumed by 270 million adults in India and it kills more than 1.3 million users every year. Several studies have established a connection between tobacco use and the spread of covid-19.
The Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) 2016-17 by Union health Ministry showed that 62% of cigarette smokers and 54% of bidi smokers said 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 warnings on smokeless tobacco products