Govt. stays decision to enlarge size of tobacco ads on packets

NEW DELHI: The Government has stayed a decision taken by the Health Ministry around six months earlier to increase the size of pictorial warnings on tobacco products from 1 April.

This follows the report by a Parliamentary panel’s assertion that it needs more time to deliberate on the issue.

The Central Government said it will take a “measured and responsible” decision on the issue of increasing the size of pictorial warnings on tobacco in the backdrop of a controversy generated by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) members of the Parliamentary panel suggesting “nil” effects of smoking.

However, Information and Broadcasting Minister Arun Jaitley made it clear that the decision of the government in the matter will not be based on the opinions of individuals.

His comments came amid reports that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had directed removal of the members with “conflicting interests” from the Committee of Subordinate Legislations examining the provisions of Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act 2003.

However, Jaitley did not directly comment on the issue of removal of these members and said, “There is a system in the Parliament and it has also been written in the rules of procedures. There is one opinion that it should be changed. This is in the hands of the Parliament, in the hands of the chair. It is not the issue concerning the government,” he said.

BJP MPs Dilip Gandhi, Shyam Charan Gupta and Ram Prasad Sarmah have claimed there is no clear proof yet linking cigarette puffing and cancer.

Asserting that a “multi-pronged” approach to discourage tobacco use was needed, Jaitley said, “Individuals can give individual opinions, but government takes measured and responsible decisions.”

Meanwhile Health Minister J P Nadda said the panel is presently deliberating the matter and his ministry will take a decision based on merit. “The subordinate legislative committee of Parliament is deliberating on the matter. After that, whatever comes, we will decide the things on its merit. Health Ministry has been consistent on the issue right from the beginning,” he said.

Gupta’s remarks have also been criticised by opposition parties including Congress, SP and CPI(M), which alleged that there was a “conflict of interest” as Gupta was in tobacco trade and also a member of Parliamentary Committee of Subordinate Legislation looking into the rules regarding tobacco sale in the country.

The developments come after Panel chairman Dilip Gandhi himself had said that all studies in regard to health hazards of tobacco consumption have come from abroad and one should consider the Indian aspect too.

“All agree on the harmful effects of tobacco. But there is no Indian survey report to prove that tobacco consumption leads to cancer. All the studies are done abroad. Cancer does not happen only because of tobacco. We have to study the Indian context, as four crore people in states like Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh are dependent on bidi-making through Tendupatta,” Gandhi had said.

Health Minister Harsh Vardhan had issued the notification around six months earlier saying that cigarette manufacturing companies will have to devote at least 85 per cent of the surface areas of cigarette packets on both sides to graphically and literally represent the statutory warning from 1 April this year. 

In the gazette notification amending the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Packaging and Labelling) Rules 2008, every cigarette packet was asked to carry on both sides pictorial depiction of throat cancer and a message in English, Hindi or any Indian language. “I have specified that 60 per cent of the space must be devoted to a picture and 25 per cent to the legend,” he said. 

Vardhan had said, “Graphic health warnings using a mixture of pictures and words are part and parcel of every country’s policy on cigarette marketing. Many studies have established that the inclusion of larger and more noticeable health warnings on packages significantly impact life expectancy rates and lead to savings on medical costs.” 

Meanwhile, the Health and Family Welfare Ministry had last month launched public service advertisements and poster on tobacco control featuring India’s ambassador for tobacco control Rahul Dravid.

The advertisements and posters have been prepared by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, and the World Health Organization Country Office for India (WHO), in collaboration with the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) and HRIDAY. 

The anti-tobacco campaign featuring Dravid is an effort by the Ministry to reach out to millions of young and potential tobacco users to encourage them to refrain from the deadly habit of tobacco use.

The audio and visual ads in Hindi and English, along with the posters will be used to create awareness regarding the harmful effects of tobacco use through TV, radio, at schools, community spaces, railway compartments, and social media. 

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