Public health activists have criticized the Indian government for deferring the use of new pictorial warnings on cigarette packs by a year. Unhappy with the government's order, the activists alleged the decision was taken under tremendous pressure from cigarette manufacturers. The new warnings, part of India's anti-smoking effort, were to be implemented from December 1 after first postponement in March.
Government had earlier made it compulsory to print the picture of a black scorpion on bidi packs and drawing of cancer-affected lungs on cigarette packets, so as to discourage smokers by depicting the ill effects of smoking. The lung picture was to be replaced by a more graphic image of a cancerous mouth.
The recently released Global Adult Tobacco Survey of India 2010 showed that pictorial warnings have a positive effect on reducing consumption. The survey found that nearly a third of tobacco users considered quitting because of the warnings, which feature a lung and a scorpion symbol with a health message.
But the tobacco companies after agreeing to implement government’s suggestion decided to play truant and stopped manufacturing in their plants to put pressure on policy makers. Corporate media came to their rescue and started crying hoarse over revenue loss of Rs. 100 crore a day as a result of halt in cigarette manufacturing. For some days, it seemed, public health concerns did not matter at all, when revenue considerations came into play.
Big tobacco companies like ITC and Godfrey Phillips stopped production, demanding clarity on the government’s stand that the pictorial warnings should be changed every year. Cigarette manufacturers want the duration of each warning to be fixed for at least 2-3 years. In addition, the industry believes a pictorial warning of mouth cancer won’t make much of a difference on smokers. But the fact remains that most of smokers are illiterate and can't read warnings. Pictorial warnings have been found to be the most cost-effective and impactful way of warning the educated and illiterate alike.
India is the world's second-largest producer and consumer of tobacco products behind China, according to the American Cancer Society and the World Lung Foundation. An estimated 241 million people in India use tobacco in some form and about 1 million die from tobacco use annually.