Pictorial warnings on tobacco still not in sight

June 10th, 2009 - 11:21 am ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, June 10 (IANS) Graphic pictorial warnings like a cancer-disfigured face or diseased lungs - to highlight the hazards of tobacco intake - were supposed to have hit the market May 31. But they are nowhere in sight and the tobacco industry says it will take more time.
“Given the fact that the various trade channels hold fairly large quantities of inventory, it will take some time for stocks with the new health warnings to be available in the marketplace,” Udayan Lall, director of the Tobacco Institute of India (TII), told IANS.

The TII is an organization representing farmers, exporters, manufacturers and ancillaries of the cigarette segments of the tobacco industry.

Tobacco products with gory pictures were expected over 10 days ago - the skull and crossbones warning being optional for cigarette packs. Tobacco vendors in the country say they are left with no choice but to sell the old stock.

“Why are we being blamed for not stocking the new cigarette boxes? Blame the distributors. We think they are holding the stock and as such we have enough stock to last us at least a month,” said Prince, owner of Prince Pan Corner in the capital.

Another cigarette vendor, Raj Kumar, said, “No fresh stock of cigarette has come with health warnings as yet. There is only one chewable tobacco (Shikhar Pan Masala) with a picture of scorpion and a statutory warning in the market.”

The delay in the health warnings reaching the market has been strongly criticised by NGOs and health professionals. According to the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), India records about 800,000 tobacco deaths every year or 2,200 deaths a day.

“The date of implementation of the pictorial warning, May 31, departed many days back and we still do not see pictorial health warnings on most of the tobacco products,” said Sunita Gupta, convenor, Indian Cancer Society.

“Display of pictorial warnings on tobacco products is one of the most proven ways to reduce tobacco consumption. It is a matter of great disappointment that after so much struggle, the pictorial warnings on tobacco products are still not there,” said Gupta.

Stating the example of Thailand and other countries that have long implemented the warnings, Bhavna Mukhopadhyay of the Voluntary Health Association of India (VHAI) said: “Over a period of time, we have seen a decrease in the sale of cigarettes in countries that have long implemented this rule. No change is seen overnight. Wait and watch, things will change.”

However, cigarette vendors believe that their sales will not see a dip following health warnings.

“If a person wants to consume poison on his own then no one can stop him. I don’t think there will be any change in the sales of tobacco,” said Kaushik T., a cigarette vendor at R.K. Puram.

Flouting the Cigarette and Other Tobacco Products (Packing and Labelling) Rules 2008 would attract fines up to Rs.5,000 with or without two years of imprisonment for the manufacturer. The dealer or seller can be fined up to Rs.1,000 with or without a year’s imprisonment.

On subsequent offences, the fine would be Rs.10,000 for the manufacturer and he could be jailed for five years. The fine would be Rs.3,000 for the seller and he may be jailed for two years.

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