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Much to the relief of this column, the Centre last week hardened its stand on the implementation of larger pictorial warnings on tobacco products. Suffice to say, years of scientific research has shown that the consumption of tobacco has serious implications on a person’s health. A day after major cigarette manufacturers had decided to shut all their factories and stop production citing an "ambiguity" in the policy mandating larger pictorial warnings covering 85% of the packaging space, the Union Health Ministry said that it has been made "crystal clear" that the rule must stand. The World Health Organisation recently said that the economic burden attributable to tobacco-related diseases in India stands at a staggering Rs 1,04,500 crore annually. Calling for large and prominent health warnings on tobacco products, many experts have argued that it is a cost-effective way of increasing public awareness about the negative health effects of tobacco use and reducing overall consumption. But an Indian parliamentary committee, headed by BJP MP Dilip Gandhi, had reportedly advocated for a reduction in the size of pictorial warning on cigarette packets from 85 percent to 50 percent. Early into its tenure, the NDA government had proposed that manufacturers print health warnings on 85 percent of the surface of a cigarette pack, up from 20 percent. The government is right in advocating stiffer warnings with 9 lakh deaths every year attributed to tobacco use in India. Notwithstanding a parliamentary panel's recommendation, the Centre has gone ahead with its implementation. But can larger warnings really deter tobacco users? “More than a third of the tobacco users surveyed said they had toyed with the idea of quitting in the past month because of warning signs on tobacco packages,” according to a Wall Street Journal report, which quoted a 2009 study conducted by the World Health Organization and the Indian government.  Moreover, many recent studies on the impact of Australia’s first ground-breaking plain packaging tobacco laws have shown that there was a “statistically significant increase” in the number of people who have either thought about or made attempts to quit smoking.
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