Civil society and public health advocates have expressed distress and concern over the Union Health Ministry decision to continue with the three “weak” pictorial warnings on cigarette and tobacco packs.

“A government notification said the weak pictorial health warnings of the lung X-ray, and diseased lungs (on cigarette packs) and the scorpion (on the chewing tobacco packs) will continue. The Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad seems to invariably turn a deaf ear to the requests and appeals of civil society and society at large and has yet again compromised on the health of the millions by notifying the ineffective and weak pictorial warnings on tobacco packs,’’ said Voluntary Health Association of India’s (VHAI) executive director Bhavna B. Mukhopadhyay.

The Union Health Ministry had previously acknowledged that it had received representations from the tobacco industry asking it to defer the new pictorial health warnings.

``We received this information from the Union Government in its reply to a Right to Information Act. In its reply, it has admitted to the pressure exerted by the industry and other interested parties. In this case it is apparent that the Government is repeatedly playing into the hands of a handful of tobacco companies, and is oblivious to the several thousands of representations that have been made from a cross section of people across the length and breadth of the country. Even despite judicial intervention, it is not willing to take any positive and effective steps towards proper implementation of the packaging and labelling rules, including stronger pictorial warnings,’’ noted a release issued by VHAI.

VHAI has demanded that new and stronger pictorial warnings need to be implemented urgently as the current warnings are neither effective nor hard-hitting enough to convince consumers of the health hazards of tobacco use.

``Also it is mandatory to replace them every 12 months. India is a signatory to the International Tobacco Control Treaty which requires all parties to implement stronger evidence based pictorial health warnings. Countries like Australia, Belgium, Chile and Hong Kong have implemented strong pictorial health warnings, whereas Brazil rotates the pictures every five months,’’ said Ms. Bhavna.

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