Tobacco warnings, the bigger the better

Tobacco warnings, the bigger the better

The recommendations of a parliamentary committee on subordinate legislation on pictorial warnings on cigarette and beedi packets promote the interests of the tobacco lobby more than the cause of public health. The committee has disfavoured the proposal to cover 85% of the display area on packets with pictorial warnings, and suggested that the size of the warning space be increased from the existing 40% to just 50%. For beedis, 50% of the space on only one side will be covered. The proposal was to be originally implemented from April 1, 2015 but was pushed ahead to April this year. Though only a few days are left for implementation, a decision has not yet been taken. A 10% increase in warning space will not make any difference. The committee found the recommendation to cover 85% of the space on packets with warnings “too harsh”.

The 15-member committee’s credentials were in doubt even before it made the recommendations. One of the members is the country’s biggest beedi baron. He recused from the discussion on tobacco warnings but his very inclusion in the committee showed a serious conflict of interest. The committee’s chairman, Dilip Kumar Gandhi, had last year said that there was no study which proved that the use of tobacco caused cancer. As the committee’s attitude was clear from this, there is no surprise that it did not want to be harsh on the tobacco industry. An increase in warning space is meant to create awareness among the people about the dangers of consumption of tobacco. There is no need to prove that tobacco is a serious health hazard, as every study everywhere in the world has proved that. Still, the committee is not in favour of a measure which will help highlight that danger. In countries like Australia, it has been observed that bigger visual warnings on cigarette packets have led to a decrease in smoking habit.

About a million people in India die of diseases caused by the consumption of tobacco. The cost of medical treatment is high and many families suffer due to death or ailments. But the country is unable to take a decision which is likely to lead to a reduction in the use of tobacco. There are arguments that tobacco farmers and workers in the industry might be affected adversely. The health of the common man is more important than all this. The committee failed to see this, but the government should not.
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