The Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has issued a notification recognising the new set of pictorial warnings to be displayed on packets of tobacco products. However, it will come into force only on December 1, 2011.

The Centre amended the Cigarettes and other Tobacco Products (Packaging and Labelling) Rules, 2008, a few days ahead of the World No Tobacco Day on May 31.

For cigarette and beedi packets there are three pictures of diseased lungs and one of oral cancer. For chewed tobacco products there are four images of oral cancer.

The warnings might look gory and are intentional, says Abhinav Bassi, Outreach Officer, HRIDAY, a Delhi-based organisation. The actual results of tobacco use are equally frightening and these pictures and [patients in] any cancer hospital in India offer proof of that.

The images on chewing tobacco products are gory enough to act as deterrent, explains anti-tobacco campaigner P.C. Gupta of the Healis Sekhsaria Institute of Public Health, Mumbai. While the images for smoking are slightly better than last time, having done away with the scorpion, and skull and cross bones, they are still insufficient, he avers.

If the tobacco industry is given the option of displaying a mild image (diseased lung) it would choose it over the more graphic image of oral cancer, points out E. Vidhubala, head, department of Psycho-oncology, and Resource Centre for Tobacco Control, Cancer Institute. This reflects the prevalent opinion that chewing tobacco such as gutka and pan masala are more dangerous than cigarettes or beedis. It also panders to public opinion that associates smoking with lung trouble.

Dr. Gupta believes that more trouble may be ahead. “We are worried that it may be postponed beyond the notified date (December 1), as was done earlier. Also, at the last minute the Ministry clarified that it was for products manufactured after the specified date. This gave the tobacco industry the opportunity to push stocks without the warning photos.”

He emphasises the need to make the pictorial warning mandatory on every pack of tobacco sold in the country. Currently, since the warning is not all-encompassing, packs of imported cigarettes continue to be sold without pictorial warnings.

“In nations such as South America, where they are serious about implementing the pictorial warnings, there is a ban on selling products/packs without them. It is noted as violation and those attempting to sell them will be prosecuted.”

Persistent advocacy is very important, Dr. Vidhubala insists.

In 2010, a year after the notification was finally implemented, the government was supposed to change the pictures, but the images were diluted.

“Even this time, they have not made any mention about rotating the images. So all the packs will continue to use the milder images and get away with it.”

Mr. Bassi also stresses on the advocacy issue. He says HRIDAY's recent advocacy efforts, including a 14-day exhibition, focussed on the depiction of stronger and effective pictorial warnings that inform people across the world about the dangers of tobacco use.

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