Big tobacco wins

Posted on December 10, 2010 | View 581

Pictorial Warnings Go Up In Smoke

The government has erred in giving tobacco companies one more year to introduce new graphic pictorial warnings on cigarette packs. The new warnings, envisaged as a serious campaign to deter tobacco users, were meant to be much more powerful than cautionary notices on the ill-effects of tobacco. The industry had adequate notice to carry new the pictorials, realistic depictions of cancer-stricken body parts, from December 1 this year. But some cigarette companies shut down their manufacturing units, citing lack of clarity over the new warnings. This was blatantly wrong. Tobacco companies also argue that such pictorials would scare consumers away from these products, lower demand and force workers out of their jobs. Such arguments are specious. Smoking is unhealthy and should be discouraged even it if causes some economic dislocation. The country records an estimated 2,200 tobacco deaths every day. And massive amounts of money are spent on treating tobacco use-related diseases.The new pictorial warnings can deter potential tobacco consumers. The government should be assertive while enforcing outcomes that are in favour of the well-being of people. 

What extension of the deadline does is to open doors for lobbying, once again. The Voluntary Health Association of India reportedly pushed hard for stringent pictorial warnings on tobacco products in 2003 when India became a signatory to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control 2002. Surely, pictorials make sense in India where literacy and awareness is low. The poor, most of whom are illiterate, largely consume bidi and gutka. The government must ensure these products also carry the new warnings. The same norm should hold for imported cigarettes. India should also vigorously promote antismoking awareness, starting with schools.

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