Parl panel for reducing size of warning on tobacco products
A parliamentary panel on Tuesday termed as “too harsh” the government’s proposed 85 per cent pictorial warnings on tobacco products and recommended a drastic reduction in size, evoking sharp criticism from MPs and health experts.
With only a few days left for the Health Ministry’s April 1 deadline to implement the 85 per cent warning, chairman of the Committee on Subordinate Legislations Dilip Gandhi justified the recommendations, saying that the size of the warnings have been urged to be increased from present 40 to 50 per cent.
Expressing “disappointment” over the recommendations, MPs said more than one million people in India die due to cancer and other tobacco-realted ailments every year, most of whom do not have health insurance for treatment of the diseases.
“The committee is of the considered view that in order to have a balanced approach, the warning on cigarette packets should be 50 per cent on both sides of the principal display area instead of 85 per cent of the principal display area...As it will be too harsh as deliberated in the earlier paras. It will result in flooding of illicit cigarettes in the country,” the committee said in its report, which was tabled in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday.
The committee also dismissed issues related to conflict of interest due to the presence of beedi baron Shyama Charan Gupta in the panel and said that he was not present in any of the meetings on tobacco.
It observed that the proposed graphic health warnings have the potential of “severely” affecting farmers and Indian companies with gain to unscrupulous elements, who manufacture and sell illicit tobacco products and foreign countries from where these goods are smuggled into India.
“We have increased the size of the pictorial warnings on both sides from the present 40 to 50 per cent,” Gandhi said.
In case of beedi as well, the committee has recommended that a “practical” approach may be adopted by increasing the size of warning up to 50 per cent on one side of the packet. The panel recommended that similar size warnings should be put up on chewing tobacco and other tobacco products such as zarda, khaini, misri and others, which will be “feasible” to follow and which would ensure that a large number of people in the trade will be saved from being rendered unemployed.
“Reduction of the pictorial warning from 85 to 50 per cent – if this is correct, then I am disappointed. One million Indians die every year. Most of these people are poor, who do not have health insurance to cover cancer and other problems from tobacco,” said Biju Janata Dal (BJD) MP Jay Panda.
K Srinath Reddy, president of the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI), said the earlier proposal of 85 per cent size was much stronger and any withdrawal from that would make it “less effective”.He hoped the government stood by its decision of going ahead with 85 per cent size.
Commenting on the issue of conflict of interest, Gandhi said: “Gupta was absent from all meetings (of the committee on tobacco) that have taken place so far.”
Another member of the committee, Idris Ali, said 50 per cent warnings on both the sides of the packet are “sufficient” and one has to take into consideration everybody’s view.
Referring to a study carried out by the Department of Commerce and another by global consultancy firm Deloitte, the panel laid stress on its findings on assessment of tobacco products in 27 countries that there has been “no impact” of large and cumbersome health warnings and “unintended consequences will be severe and irreversible”.
The new pictorial health warnings covering 85 per cent on both sides of all tobacco packs was notified in October 2014 to be implemented from April 1, 2015.
However, the government indefinitely delayed implementation of the 85 per cent pictorial health warnings after a parliamentary committee directed the Health Ministry to keep the notification in abeyance.