Government under pressure from tobacco industry: health NGO

January 8th, 2009 - 8:53 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Jan 8 (IANS) The government is under tremendous pressure from the tobacco industry to water down the strong pictorial warnings on tobacco products, according to information obtained by a NGO under the Right to Information (RTI) Act. Admitting that it is under pressure, not only from the bidi industry, but also from other interested parties, the central government said that the Group of Ministers (GoM) entrusted with the responsibility has recommended weaker pictorial warnings on tobacco products.

Pictorial warnings on tobacco products are intended to increase consumer knowledge of the deadly health effects of tobacco consumption, to encourage cessation and to discourage uptake. Since a large number of illiterate population form the chunk of bidi smokers, the pictorial warnings further reach across linguistic and cultural barriers.

However an RTI plea filed by an NGO, Voluntary Health Association of India (VHAI), revealed discouraging facts.

“The GoM looking into the matter, decided Nov 24, 2008 to defer the implementation of pictorial warning from Nov 30, 2008 to May 31, 2009. With this step, it conveniently deferred the decision in favour of the tobacco companies till the upcoming parliamentary elections are over,” Binoy Matthew of VHAI said.

“A case is currently underway in the Supreme Court regarding pictorial warnings on tobacco products as well as on packaging and labelling rules. The petitioner has asked for the setting up of laboratory facilities in order to determine tar and nicotine level in brands which are currently available in the market.”

According to the petitioner, this was the only way tobacco manufacturers and packagers can be held accountable.

“The case, in which the Union of India and two leading tobacco companies are the respondents, is due to come up for hearing later in January,” Matthew added.

Alok Mukhopadhyay, chief executive of VHAI said: “It is a matter of great shame that the guardians of the largest democracy in the world decide to put aside the critical health concerns of Indian citizens to boost the health and profits of the tobacco industry, particularly the bidi sector.”

The bidi industry which is talking about losing jobs for its workers if pictorial warnings are implemented, is the same which does not pay minimum wages, exploits women and children, constantly exposes its workers to hazardous substances, flouts labour laws and spreads illnesses and death, he added.

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