India's parliament Monday passed a law making it optional for tobacco companies to introduce prominent health warnings on cigarette packets, a health ministry official said. The bill, passed by the lower house last week, received the go-ahead from the upper house Monday, the official said.
It allows tobacco manufacturers to decide what style of warning is printed on packets -- far short of a demand by the country's health minister for the mandatory use of the skull and crossbones symbol.
Cigarette packets in India currently only have very small and barely readable text warnings, and the government has been struggling to enforce 2003 legislation for more prominent health messages.
A 2003 anti-smoking law also bans mass media advertising of tobacco products, except at sales points. However, the fine for offenders is a meagre 200 rupees (five US dollars).
According to India's health ministry, 40 percent of the country's health problems are due to tobacco, with one million deaths recorded annually as a result of tobacco-related illnesses.