Ministers dilute Ramadoss’ tough line on tobacco products

February 26th, 2008 - 11:53 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Anbumani Ramadoss

New Delhi, Feb 26 (IANS) In a major blow to Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss’ anti-tobacco campaign, a group of ministers (GoM) Tuesday said that cigarette and beedi packs would carry pictorial warnings but not grisly depictions of cancer lacerations or of a child dying due to the effects of smoking. The GoM said the pictures would be either of a lung or a scorpion - depicting cancer. The size of the pictorial warnings would be either 30 or 40 percent of the package, and not 50 percent as suggested by the health ministry.

Ramadoss’ first defeat came last year when his earlier decision to have the skull and cross bones logo on cigarette packs was made “optional” by parliament, which passed a bill in September saying that pictorial warnings on tobacco products be implemented by Oct 1, 2007.

The pictorial warnings were, however, put on hold as a decision had to be taken by the GoM on the content. Both the health and information and broadcasting ministries put forward their suggestions.

While the health ministry approved real-life pictures, including one showing a child dying due to the effects of smoking and another of mouth cancer lacerations and tumours, the information and broadcasting ministry suggested that the pictures be less harsh.

Announcing the decision of the GoM here, Information and Broadcasting Minister P.R. Dasmunsi said: “No more GoMs. We have collectively agreed that there will be pictorial warnings on bidi (leaf-rolled cigarettes), cigarettes and all tobacco products.”

But the size and the pictures of either a lung or a scorpion on the front would be taken later, he said.

“The size, transparent or colour (the warnings) and the pictures of either lung or scorpion will be decided by the chairman of the GoM.”

The GoM, which lasted for over an hour, is headed by External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee.

He said the ministers would provide the information to Mukherjee in consultation with the health minister within a week.

Coming out of the meeting, a subdued Ramadoss said: “Pictorial warnings are coming and it (the pictures) will be decided by the chairman in a couple of days.”

“A decision on size, picture and colour is yet to be taken. It will be visible on the front,” he told reporters.

He said the tobacco industry will be given time to implement it. “We will notify it in two to three months and then give time to the industry to implement it,” said a visibly upset Ramadoss.

An active anti-tobacco and anti-alcohol advocate, Ramadoss said the government would also carry out campaigns in two phases to create awareness on the harmful effects of tobacco.

The minister, who has been internationally recognized for his anti-tobacco stance, had also won recognition from the World Health Organization (WHO) last year.

Ramadoss said the labour ministry would look for alternative jobs for the people employed in the tobacco industry.

Some voluntary organisations in order to build pressure on the ministers had taken out advertisements in major newspapers Monday asking for effective warnings to save millions of lives from tobacco-related diseases.

The GoM was set up in May last year by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh after the health ministry announced it would issue directions that all tobacco products should bear the skull and cross bones logo and pictorial warnings.

There has been intense pressure on the health minister, particularly from the bidi industry, which maintains that pictorial warnings would take away their source of livelihood and render many jobless.

According to the World Health Organization, nearly one million Indians will die annually from smoking-related diseases by 2010.

Over Rs.300 billion is spent to treat major tobacco related diseases in India, four times the revenue generated from the tobacco industry, according to Indian Council of Medical Research, a key government scientific research organization.

Countries that have introduced similar warnings include Canada, Brazil and Australia.

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