Pictorial warning on tobacco items not during UPA tenure: Ramadoss

November 29th, 2008 - 5:32 pm ICT by IANS  

Anbumani RamadossChennai, Nov 29 (IANS) Admitting defeat in ensuring pictorial health warnings on packets of cigarettes and other tobacco products, India’s Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss Saturday said the decision has been deferred by at least six months — by when the current United Progressive Alliance government would have finished its term.Earlier the pictorial health warnings were supposed to come into force by Dec 1 (Monday) but following deferment of the decision, they can only be expected to come by June next year.

“Had the government left it only to my ministry, then we would have certainly implemented it right on time. But the reality is the group of ministers (GOM) headed by External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee took a decision to this effect,” Ramadoss, here to participate in a conference on diabetes, told IANS.

The decision to extend the deadline was taken on Monday but there was no formal announcement. With this, the central government announced its decision publicly that pictorial warnings will not come till June 1 next year.

Ramadoss has been campaigning hard to curb use of tobacco in the country. While he has already piloted through a measure to ban smoking in public places, which came into force Oct 2, a picture warning in 40 percent of a pack of cigarettes was set to see light on Dec 1.

“Lot of parliamentarians had written letters to the government against the pictorial warning. Some chief ministers had also expressed their views on the issue. I am part of the government; I cannot take a decision by myself. It’s a collective decision,” he said, seemingly dejected over his inability to implement it during the present government’s term.

According to health ministry sources, the GOM’s decision was “more in political nature” keeping an “eye to the ongoing assembly elections and the general election”, which is likely to take place in the first quarter of next year.

Some of the cabinet ministers in the Manmohan Singh government are from constituencies where tobacco cultivation and manufacturing is the main occupation.

Quizzed further why the government has deferred the warning for the seventh time, Ramadoss said: “The tobacco companies had expressed their desire for some more time so that they can implement the warnings on their packets.”

According to the health ministry, pictures of cancer-affected organs were supposed to be printed on 40 percent of a packet of cigarettes and similar warnings were to feature on other tobacco products. The aim was to create psychological pressure on tobacco users and dissuade them from the habit.

With this delay, India will miss the deadline (in February 2009) imposed by the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) to implement pictorial health warnings on tobacco products.

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