No smoking: Gory pictures pull in, shock trade fair visitors

November 18th, 2010 - 3:24 pm ICT by IANS  

By Madhulika Sonkar
New Delhi, Nov 18 (IANS) Positioned in a secluded corner of Hall No. 1 of Pragati Maidan here, gory pictures of mutilated lips, disfigured mouths and lungs are forcing many visitors at the India International Trade Fair (IITF) to halt and take a second look.

Under the title ‘Pictures save lives, choose and save millions’, the stall is exhibiting a collage of pictorial warnings on tobacco products from around the world.

“I was here to buy jute bags. When I saw the scary picture of a mutilated mouth at this stall, I wanted to know more about the pictorial warnings on tobacco products,” said 16-year-old Disha Goel.

While a picture from Uruguay shows a baby surrounded by cigarette-smoke rings, warnings from Thailand show pictures of a mutilated and cancer-affected mouth.

“I can’t believe we have such weak pictorial warnings in India when other nations clearly depict the devastating impact of tobacco on a smoker’s health through pictures,” said Goel.

The photo-exhibition is an initiative by voluntary organisations - Health Related Information Dissemination amongst Youth (HRIDAY), Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) and Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids - to propose a replacement of the current set of pictorial warnings in India with new pictures.

“In many parts of the world, the pictorial warnings on tobacco products are really evocative and project their negative impact on the body. But in India the pictorial warnings on the products are hardly visible,” Monika Arora, senior director of HRIDAY, told IANS.

While Indian tobacco products warn consumers with hazy images of lungs and a scorpion’s picture on gutka and cigarette packets, health experts demand a change in the strategy.

“One can’t even make out that it’s the picture of an infected lung on the cigarette packets in our country. We are proposing a picture that rightly puts across the message of how devastating tobacco consumption can be for a person,” Arora added.

The Nov 14-27 exhibition also has signature campaigns, opinion polls and warning walls to garner public support on the issue, and is proving to be a major attraction for students and visitors at the annual trade fair.

“Why are the tobacco users in our country being kept in the dark? They must know the direct impact of smoking cigarette and chewing tobacco,” Jaspreet Kaur Pal, media advocacy head of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, told IANS.

According to a study by the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) in 2009, India accounts for nearly 274.9 million tobacco users, around 35 percent of the Indian population.

“The rural population or the illiterate masses can’t understand the written warnings or the current unclear pictorial warnings on gutka or cigarette packets,” added Pal.

According to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, pictorial warnings are the way to discourage users. Brazil, Australia and Canada have reported a sharp decrease in tobacco consumption because of effective pictorial warnings.

“Pakistan too is a strong example. Tobacco products there depict a cancer-affected mouth, a horrifying image that is enough to wake up tobacco users,” said Chitra Nair, legal officer at HRIDAY.

The first set of pictorial warnings on tobacco products was notified in July 2006, but the move witnessed constant delays.

“A new set of field-tested pictorial warnings were notified earlier in March this year, but their implementation was deferred to December,” said Arora.

Nearly 14 percent of youth are addicted to tobacco in India, a GATS study revealed in 2005, with over 5,000 youngsters joining the group daily.

“This exhibition is meant to tell the Indian government to act fast and replace the current weak and ineffective warnings with stronger ones on Dec 1,” said K.S. Reddy, president of the PHFI.

Tobacco, responsible for 40 percent cancer-caused deaths in the country, also causes respiratory diseases due to second-hand smoke.

“There’s an urgent need to have effective pictorial warnings in India. Bidis (hand rolled cigarettes) are the major shareholders of the tobacco industry, and that is where we need better pictorial warnings,” Jyotsna Govil, additional secretary of the Indian Cancer Society, told IANS.

“The act will benefit the victims of second hand smoke also,” Govil added.

Among youth in the 13-15 age group in India, 27 percent are exposed to secondhand smoke at home while 40 percent are exposed to secondhand smoke in public places.

“Smokers won’t completely quit smoking on seeing such a pictorial warning, but they would think twice. So a reduction in consumption can be expected,” said Pranav Gujral, 26, a chain smoker himself.

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