‘Scorpion sign on cigarette packs not enough as deterrent’

February 27th, 2008 - 11:26 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Anbumani Ramadoss

New Delhi, Feb 27 (IANS) Anti-tobacco activists have cried foul after a Group of Ministers (GoM) did not approve making mandatory gory depictions of cancer lacerations on tobacco packets and chose less menacing warning signs. “For their short-term political benefits, politicians have compromised with the health of millions of Indians,” alleged Shekhar Salkar, general secretary of the National Organisation for Tobacco Eradication (NOTE).

“We are disappointed at the decision to drop the strong pictorial warnings. A gory warning would have created a psychological impact and dissuaded people from smoking,” Salkar told IANS on telephone from Goa Wednesday.

In a major blow to Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss’ anti-tobacco campaign, the GoM Tuesday decided 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 passive 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.

Bhavna Mukhopadhyay, director of health promotion at the Voluntary Health Association of India (VHAI), a federation of 4,500 voluntary groups, said: “Indian authorities lack political will to take strong action.

“As parliament elections are not far, ministers tried to keep their votes in tact. The bidi workers and tobacco industry lobby definitely went against a long-term health issue.

“Our ministers failed to de-glamorise tobacco products. Since, they have decided on the pictorial warning, we want them to review it after one year and make necessary changes.

“A scorpion will be an ineffective symbol to dissuade people from consuming tobacco,” she said.

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

Monika Arora of the NGO Hridaya said that by reducing the size of the pictorial warning from proposed 50 percent to 30 percent of the packet, the government has compromised with the international best practices.

“They are going for a scorpion without assessing its impact on field. This is discouraging and politically motivated,” Arora said.

Activists praised Ramadoss and criticised his cabinet colleagues for not allowing him to take the right steps.

“Ramadoss is junior in the GoM. He is like a boy in front of ministers like Pranab Mukherjee,” Salkar said.

As many as 17 countries include Canada, Brazil and Australia have mandatory pictorial warnings on tobacco packets.

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