In a detractive decision of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW), Government of India (GOI), the implementation of new pictorial health warnings has been deferred to December 1, 2010 from the earlier commitment of introducing them from June 1, 2010.
In March 2010, civil society organizations had joined hands
to applaud the government's efforts in notifying effective pictorial warning of
cancer-stricken mouth on packs of both smoking and smokeless tobacco. However,
this delay in implementation of new pictorial warnings by the GOI is worrying
civil society organizations, as in the past, this oscillating stand of the
Government had led to further weakening and dilutions of warnings.
Fifty-two organizations under the umbrella of the Advocacy
Forum for Tobacco Control (AFTC) met in Mumbai from June 23-25 and deliberated
on the delay in enforcement of pictorial health warnings on tobacco products.
AFTC is a coalition of 63 pan Indian organizations working in the area of
advocacy, awareness, promotion and research related to tobacco control in
India. Its main goal is to advance policies for control of tobacco, which is a
major public health threat that claims close to 1 million victims annually in
"In India the pictorial warnings that got implemented
from 31 May 2009 were mild, weak and not field tested," said Professor
(Dr) Rama Kant, Executive Director of Tobacco Cessation Clinic (TCC) at the
Chhatrapati Shahuji Maharaj Medical University (CSMMU), and a World Health
Organization (WHO) Director-General's
Awardee (2005). "These pictorial warnings are to be rotated every
year as per the Cigarette and Other Tobacco Products Act, 2003. As per an
earlier GOI notification, the new pictorial health warnings that were to be
implemented from 1 June 2010, were stronger and field-tested, however as a
major setback to public health, these warnings have been further delayed till 1
December 2010" informs Prof Rama Kant.
Independent studies assessing the efficacy of pictorial
warnings conducted by organizations like Healis-Sekhsaria Institute for Public
Health and HRIDAY (Health Related Information Dissemination Amongst Youth) have
proven that the existing warnings on the packs of tobacco products do not
effectively communicate the lethal consequences of tobacco use. The new
pictorial warnings notified to be implemented from June 2010 onwards were field
tested for effectiveness by the Government before notifying them.
"This is another example of possible interference in
public health policy by either tobacco industry, their allies or supporters of
tobacco trade. Because the tobacco industry sells a product that kills one
million people in India annually, therefore, industry's interests will always
be in conflict with public health. It is high time that national tobacco
control policies in India are congruent to what India is obligated to do by
ratifying the international global tobacco treaty - WHO Framework Convention on
Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC). India and other parties to WHO FCTC had adopted the
strong guidelines for Article 5.3, to protect health policies from tobacco
industry interference" said Bobby Ramakant, from the Indian Society
Against Smoking, Asha Parivar, who also represents Network for Accountability
of Tobacco Transnationals (NATT).
There has been reported decline in tobacco use in developing
countries such as Thailand (ITC project, Thailand), which has been attributed
by smokers to effective pictorial warnings on tobacco packs. "Why would not the
Indian Government feel the urgent need to implement effective pictorial health
warnings to prevent the unnecessary deaths from tobacco use?" questioned the
concerned AFTC members.
Also, the coalition collectively highlighted the importance
of pictorial warnings in conveying the harmful health effects of tobacco to
users, especially in rural areas and those unable to read and write.
During the AFTC conference in Mumbai, tobacco control
professionals across India resolved to strongly counteract this Industry
pressure and the continuous soft stand of the Government towards pictorial
health warnings on tobacco products, and ensure no further delay and dilution
of health warnings in India.
Contributed by: Bobby Ramakant