‘Strong pictorial health warnings on tobacco products are powerful communication tools'

The former Union Health Minister, Anbumani Ramadoss, has written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, expressing concern over the shoddy implementation of the new pictorial health warnings on tobacco products.

He alleged that the implementation of rotation for pictorial health warnings, one of the key strategies to create awareness on the adverse health impacts of tobacco, was ineffective. “Tobacco kills almost a million people every year in India,” he said in the letter.

“It is scientifically recognised and empirically established from the experiences of other countries that strong pictorial health warnings on tobacco products are powerful communication tools that can take the message of the toxic effects of tobacco to a vast majority of people, including the illiterate. Effective warnings will deter the non-starters and will motivate the tobacco consumers to quit,” he said.

Also, the law provides for pictorial warnings on tobacco product packages to be rotated in regular intervals. In March 2010, the Union Health Ministry ordered that a picture depicting “Mouth Cancer” be printed as the new pictorial health warning. These warnings were to be displayed on all tobacco products from June 1, 2010. However, enforcement of these new effective health warnings was deferred for implementation to December 1, 2010, Dr. Ramadoss said.

He also accused the tobacco industry of pressuring the government to withdraw the new pictorial warning and dilute the same.

He pointed out that in the “Cigarette Package Health Warnings: International Status Report 2010,” released during WHO's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control meeting in Uruguay in November 2010, India ranked 100 among 175 countries surveyed on fulfilling requirements for tobacco warnings on cigarette packets. Pakistan, Bangladesh and Maldives had better rankings in the survey.

“I urge that the government consider the huge burden of tobacco-related mortality and morbidity. Any delay in implementation of the new health warnings is in complete violation of the principles of promoting public health,” he said. Dr. Ramadoss urged the Prime Minister to take personal interest to ensure implementation of the pictorial warning system on tobacco packs without any dilution.