All up in smoke?

Expectedly, tobacco companies are resisting a new regulation that the mandatory pictorial warnings on cigarette packages be made larger. The legal challenge to the new rule is likely to be finally settled in the weeks ahead, but till then, as per the Supreme Court’s directives, the larger warnings must be printed. For now, cartons will have up to 85 per cent of the packet devoted to graphic messaging. Having lost the argument on the health effects of cigarette consumption, as well as passive smoking, cigarette-makers are pleading that tobacco-growers will be adversely affected. Experience in other countries suggests that they are fighting a losing battle. Australia has become something of a shining example for the rest of the world to follow in clamping down on suggestive branding. In 2012, it pioneered a move to have cigarettes sold in logo-free plain cartons to deter smokers. This month, the European Court of Justice backed a measure to cover two-thirds of a cigarette packet with health cautions in the 28 member-states of the European Union. Earlier, the ECJ had prohibited the use of descriptive terms such as “light” and “mild” to differentiate among cigarettes. This was in addition to the mandatory disclosure on cigarette packs of the ingredients. The smoking habit is often picked up by suggestive nudges — through advertising, peer pressure, and cultural signals that associate smoking with hipness, attitude, stress-busting, and so on. Indeed, Canberra’s post-implementation report shows that there has been a statistically significant drop in the prevalence of smoking since packages have gone logo-less.

In tandem with the latest restrictions on how cigarettes are packaged, the EU and the U.S. have clamped down on the sale of electronic cigarettes. In the U.S., e-cigarettes cannot be sold to people under 18 years of age. This is the result of a growing consensus that far from being a harm-free alternative as claimed by industry lobbies, e-cigarettes could sooner or later lure consumers to take up the real thing. Curiously, it was when the new nicotine-based substitute began to make inroads that some tobacco giants were more willing to acknowledge the toxic chemicals and carcinogens released while smoking. However, they continue to pin their hopes on a challenge at the WTO, which they are fighting together with countries that have strong interests in the tobacco crop. That ruling may still be some time away. But the public health campaign must continue apace with the enforcement of extensive curbs on smoking in public spaces. This is an effective way to help break the smoking habit, besides of course protecting bystanders from second-hand smoke. Countries such as India have enforced rules that warnings be affixed in films when someone lights up on screen. There is still some way to go in the business of cracking down on surrogate advertising. Having temporarily won its battle in the Supreme Court on packaging, it is time New Delhi did more to discourage smoking.

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Printable version | Apr 15, 2021 11:49:04 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/all-up-in-smoke/article8576736.ece

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