Millennium Post

Ignoring warnings, imperiling lives

Ignoring warnings, imperiling lives
Despite the ample time given to tobacco companies to display the new pictorial warnings on tobacco packs they continue to be tardy in this respect. The new warnings were to have become mandatory under the law from the April of this year but tobacco companies are still lagging behind both in placing such warnings on the packs as also in the quality of the visuals, with many of them persisting with the old pictorial warnings which have been found to be quite ineffective. These companies continue to lobby for more time which is not surprising considering the constant pressure that has been exerted by the tobacco industry to sabotage this and similar laws that aim to warn the public about the health hazards of tobacco and tobacco products. Interference in the country’s health policies by the tobacco companies has been persistent and they continue to use their political influence to weaken or delay tobacco control legislation. Previously they had sought to undermine the law by displaying dull, diluted and watered down pictorial warnings that had no effect, sabotaging even the initial skull and bones symbol by suggesting that it offended the religious sensibilities of the people when the evidence was to the contrary. They have not hesitated in the past from floating arguments of an economic meltdown and loss of jobs for the workers in order to slow down the implementation of the law.

The International Status Report on Pictorial Health Warnings released last year ranked India at position 123 among 198 countries that were surveyed on warning size and fulfillment of the requirements for picture-based warnings on cigarette packets. Such pictorial warnings are poorly understood by the public and do not serve the purpose. Meanwhile, the industry continues to use promotional messages on the packs as well as spending huge amounts on advertising, all intended to lure customers and make tobacco products seem attractive. Tobacco yet remains a major health hazard and killer, with a recent nationwide study on smoking and mortality in India estimating that cigarette and beedi smoking caused approximately five per cent of all deaths in women and 20 per cent of all deaths in men aged 30-69 years. With India being among the biggest markets for tobacco products in the world, it becomes imperative to warn the public of the serious linkages of tobacco to disease. The government, a signatory of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, must ensure that tobacco companies conform to the new pictorial warnings law.
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