NGOs lobby for pictorial warnings on tobacco products

February 25th, 2008 - 4:35 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Anbumani Ramadoss

New Delhi, Feb 25 (IANS) As a group of ministers meet Tuesday to take a decision on pictorial warnings on all tobacco products, voluntary organisations are building pressure to introduce more effective warnings and save millions of lives. The GoM headed by Minister for External Affairs Pranab Mukherjee is likely to clear the content of pictorial warnings suggested by ministries of health and information and broadcasting.

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

Apart from Mukherjee, Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss, Information and Broadcasting Minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi, Commerce and Industry Minister Kamal Nath, Urban Development Minister S. Jaipal Reddy and Labour Minister Oscar Fernandes will attend the meeting.

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

After the six ministers first met in May, parliament passed a bill in September saying that pictorial warnings in cigarette packets on tobacco products be implemented by Oct 1, 2007.

But it is yet to be implemented, as the GoM has to take a decision on the content of the pictorial warnings.

The controversial bill, which has been contested by various political parties, said that the skull-and-cross-bones logo is “optional”.

“There is a long delay on pictorial warnings. There has been a lot of pressure on the GoM to dilute this issue,” said Bhavna Mukhopadhyay, the director of health promotion at the Voluntary Health Association of India (VHAI), a federation of 4,500 voluntary organizations, which works on health and development issues.

She said intense pressure was being put particularly from the bidi (leaf-rolled cigarette) industry, which says pictorial warnings would deprive their workers of livelihood and would render many jobless.

Mukhopadhyay said they want the government to paste evidence-based health warnings that have been notified but not implemented so far.

“No one will be able to understand pictorial warnings if they are weak in content and not evidence-based,” she told IANS.

The organization Monday placed large-sized advertisements in main newspapers, urging the ministers that “when you meet to decide on pictorial health warnings on all tobacco products, you have a historic opportunity to save millions of Indians from chronic illness and untimely painful death by informing them effectively about the consequences of tobacco consumption.”

It also said, “the government of India must continue to play a significant role in tobacco control front by implementing strong and evidence-based pictorial health warnings on all tobacco products as committed earlier.”

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

“Over 300 billion are spent to treat major tobacco related diseases in India, which is four times the revenue generated from the tobacco industry,” the ad said quoting the 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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