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Recommendation on tobacco pack warning draws flak

By SIVASISH THAKUR

GUWAHATI, March 21 - Opposing the Parliamentary Committee on Subordinate Legislation (CoSL)�s recommendations reducing picture health warnings (front and back) on tobacco packets to 50 per cent on either side from the recently-mandated 85 per cent, anti-tobacco campaigners have urged the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to implement the warning at 85 per cent in view of the catastrophic fallouts of widespread tobacco consumption in the country.

The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare had on October 15, 2014, issued a gazette notification mandating the display of specified health warnings covering 85 per cent of each side or face of the principal display area of the package of which 60 per cent shall cover pictorial health warning and 25 per cent shall cover textual health warning.

The warning on tobacco packs is set for implementation from April 1, 2016.

Dr AC Kataki, Director of Dr B Borooah Cancer Institute (BBCI) termed the development as a big disappointment and said that the large-scale tobacco consumption in the country together with the established fact that many cancers were directly attributable to tobacco consumption made a strong case for a �strong and conspicuous� warnings.

�The serious health hazards of tobacco consumption are scientifically established. Tobacco addiction in different forms is growing and it is entrapping a big population of children and teenagers. The CoSL�s recommendation is a big disappointment and we will make a fresh appeal,� he said.

The Voluntary Health Association of Assam (VHAA), a non-profit body campaigning for policy-level changes towards tobacco control, was of the view that the parliamentary panel had ignored the overwhelming scientific evidence on large-scale death and disease attributable to tobacco use in India.

The VHAA, which has submitted a memorandum to Union Minister for Health & Family Welfare JP Nadda for retaining the decision on having 85 per cent space for warning, said that the observations made by the committee in several places were not only factually incorrect, but portrayed �a one-sided scenario based on arguments often made by the tobacco industry to mislead and misinform policy-makers and undermine vital tobacco control measures of the government.�

Arguing that the recommendations of the CoSL report were not binding on the ministry, the VHAA said that the decision to implement the pack warnings (85 per cent front and back) on all tobacco product packages rests completely and solely with the Health Ministry.

�We urge the ministry not to accept the recommendations and give priority to save India from an impending public health disaster of the 20th century from tobacco use,� Ruchira Neog, executive secretary, VHAA, said.

The CoSL, in its recent report, said that the government needed to put stress on education and awareness generation programmes that �have proven to be more effective in controlling tobacco consumption and at the same time protect the livelihood of the millions of tobacco workers involved in it.�

�The committee was of the view that in order to have a balanced approach, the warning on the cigarette packets should be 50 per cent on both sides of the principal display area instead of 85 per cent of the principal display area, as it will be too harsh and will result in flooding of illicit cigarettes in the country,� RP Sharma, Lok Sabha member from Assam and a member of the CoSL, said.

Anti-tobacco activists, however, argue that the CoSL reasoning does not cut much ice and that effective package warnings increase awareness of the health effects and reduce tobacco use.

According to anti-tobacco campaigners, as a result of health warnings, consumers receive more information, not less, and consumers are entitled to be fully informed of the many health effects of tobacco products, and the package is the best way to do that. Moreover, pictures can convey a message with far more impact than a text-only message can.

Further, a larger size makes it more difficult for the branded promotional part of the package to distract the consumer�s attention away from the warning.

The Advocacy Forum for Tobacco Control in its representation before the CoSL said that implementing 85 per cent pictorial health warnings (PHW) will build a tobacco-free future for youth in India.

�Tobacco is an enormous health and economic burden for India. Nearly 10 lakh Indians die annually from tobacco-related diseases in India. Fifty per cent of all cancers in India are due to tobacco use. Rs 1,04,500 crore is spent on healthcare costs to treat tobacco-related diseases. The PHWs are the most effective way of communicating the ill effects of tobacco use, particularly among those with low literacy or no formal education,� it said.

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Recommendation on tobacco pack warning draws flak

GUWAHATI, March 21 - Opposing the Parliamentary Committee on Subordinate Legislation (CoSL)�s recommendations reducing picture health warnings (front and back) on tobacco packets to 50 per cent on either side from the recently-mandated 85 per cent, anti-tobacco campaigners have urged the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to implement the warning at 85 per cent in view of the catastrophic fallouts of widespread tobacco consumption in the country.

The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare had on October 15, 2014, issued a gazette notification mandating the display of specified health warnings covering 85 per cent of each side or face of the principal display area of the package of which 60 per cent shall cover pictorial health warning and 25 per cent shall cover textual health warning.

The warning on tobacco packs is set for implementation from April 1, 2016.

Dr AC Kataki, Director of Dr B Borooah Cancer Institute (BBCI) termed the development as a big disappointment and said that the large-scale tobacco consumption in the country together with the established fact that many cancers were directly attributable to tobacco consumption made a strong case for a �strong and conspicuous� warnings.

�The serious health hazards of tobacco consumption are scientifically established. Tobacco addiction in different forms is growing and it is entrapping a big population of children and teenagers. The CoSL�s recommendation is a big disappointment and we will make a fresh appeal,� he said.

The Voluntary Health Association of Assam (VHAA), a non-profit body campaigning for policy-level changes towards tobacco control, was of the view that the parliamentary panel had ignored the overwhelming scientific evidence on large-scale death and disease attributable to tobacco use in India.

The VHAA, which has submitted a memorandum to Union Minister for Health & Family Welfare JP Nadda for retaining the decision on having 85 per cent space for warning, said that the observations made by the committee in several places were not only factually incorrect, but portrayed �a one-sided scenario based on arguments often made by the tobacco industry to mislead and misinform policy-makers and undermine vital tobacco control measures of the government.�

Arguing that the recommendations of the CoSL report were not binding on the ministry, the VHAA said that the decision to implement the pack warnings (85 per cent front and back) on all tobacco product packages rests completely and solely with the Health Ministry.

�We urge the ministry not to accept the recommendations and give priority to save India from an impending public health disaster of the 20th century from tobacco use,� Ruchira Neog, executive secretary, VHAA, said.

The CoSL, in its recent report, said that the government needed to put stress on education and awareness generation programmes that �have proven to be more effective in controlling tobacco consumption and at the same time protect the livelihood of the millions of tobacco workers involved in it.�

�The committee was of the view that in order to have a balanced approach, the warning on the cigarette packets should be 50 per cent on both sides of the principal display area instead of 85 per cent of the principal display area, as it will be too harsh and will result in flooding of illicit cigarettes in the country,� RP Sharma, Lok Sabha member from Assam and a member of the CoSL, said.

Anti-tobacco activists, however, argue that the CoSL reasoning does not cut much ice and that effective package warnings increase awareness of the health effects and reduce tobacco use.

According to anti-tobacco campaigners, as a result of health warnings, consumers receive more information, not less, and consumers are entitled to be fully informed of the many health effects of tobacco products, and the package is the best way to do that. Moreover, pictures can convey a message with far more impact than a text-only message can.

Further, a larger size makes it more difficult for the branded promotional part of the package to distract the consumer�s attention away from the warning.

The Advocacy Forum for Tobacco Control in its representation before the CoSL said that implementing 85 per cent pictorial health warnings (PHW) will build a tobacco-free future for youth in India.

�Tobacco is an enormous health and economic burden for India. Nearly 10 lakh Indians die annually from tobacco-related diseases in India. Fifty per cent of all cancers in India are due to tobacco use. Rs 1,04,500 crore is spent on healthcare costs to treat tobacco-related diseases. The PHWs are the most effective way of communicating the ill effects of tobacco use, particularly among those with low literacy or no formal education,� it said.