Parliamentarians from India and Australia met along with renowned Indian doctors to discuss the importance of larger pictorial health warnings in India and steps recommended to move towards plain packaging of tobacco products. This meeting comes ahead of the Indian Government’s decision to implement 85% pictorial health warnings on both sides of tobacco packages from April 1, 2016.
Australia set a global example by implementing plain packaging of tobacco products in December 2012, as a landmark effort to counter tobacco use, despite tremendous tobacco industry resistance. An attempt by tobacco companies to weaken India’s commitment to 85% pictorial health warnings was met with stiff resistance by the tobacco control community, media and youth. Several world leaders including Honorable Ministers from South Africa and Ireland and HRH Princess Dina Mired of Jordan have supported the 85% pictorial health warnings in India. The larger warnings: set for implementation from April 1, 2016 will strengthen India’s response to the growing burden of tobacco use and pave the way for stronger measures like plain packaging.
"Tobacco kills people all around the world, including an estimated one million Indians every year: which is a grave tragedy. I congratulate the Indian government for its commitment to larger graphic health warnings on tobacco packs to help reduce smoking rates. In Australia, we implemented plain packaging three years ago so that no logos, colours or emblems of tobacco brands are visible. Other countries have now followed suit. Tobacco companies fought us hard to stop these reforms because they know that such measures work," said Mr Chris Picton MP, Member of the South Australian Parliament and former Chief of Staff to Honourable Nicola Roxon, the Minister who implemented plain packaging in Australia.
“As lawmakers of our country, it is critical that we take a stand on issues that determine the health and wellbeing of our citizens. The enormous burden of tobacco use is one such issue and we must push for policies meant to protect and warn people, especially youth about the dangerous consequences of tobacco. Australia has been a beacon of hope and resilience in fighting tobacco companies and implementing plain packaging of tobacco products. While on the brink of implementing larger pictorial health warnings, it is imperative that we learn and adapt from our Australian counterparts to bring such health promoting policies to India,”said Mr Baijayant Panda, Honorable Member of Parliament (Lok Sabha) and a leading proponent of India’s efforts towards plain packaging of tobacco packs.
At present, pictorial health warnings cover 40% of the principal display area of tobacco packages. India is currently ranked at the 136th position worldwide vis-à-vis warnings labels, according to an international report published by the Canadian Cancer Society in 2014. With Australia leading the plain packaging movement, a number of countries across the world have implemented large-sized pictorial health warnings on both sides of the tobacco pack. Countries with the largest warnings include India’s neighbours in the South East Asia Region, i.e. Nepal (90%), Thailand (85%) and Sri Lanka (80%).
“It is commendable that the Indian Government has been unrelenting in its commitment to implement larger and more graphic pictorial health warnings on tobacco packs. Even though tobacco companies made incredulous claims denying the health effects of tobacco use and unleashed alarmist campaigns on the impact of strict measures on livelihoods of tobacco farmers and bidi rollers, all who are committed to protect the lives and wellbeing of Indians hope that the Courts and policymakers across the country will continue to be cognizant of insurmountable scientific evidence on the health and socio-economic burdens of tobacco use. We look to them for evidence-informed policy decisions and await the implementation of 85% pictorial health warnings on both sides of all tobacco packs from April 1, 2016 because people must be informed about the high stakes of using tobacco. It is only through measures like these that we can reach our national target of 30% relative reduction of current tobacco use by 2025,” said Prof. K. Srinath Reddy, President, Public Health Foundation of India.
Multispecialty doctors from renowned medical institutions like the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Moolchand Medcity and Sir Ganga Ram Hospital convened a panel discussion at the event to emphasize the need for various medical specialists including cardiologists, oncologists, pediatricians, and psychiatrists to join hands and highlight the tremendous and varied impact of tobacco use on health. They spoke about the need for preventive, diagnostic as well as cessation services to counter the gruesome effects of the habit.
“This issue of larger pictorial health warnings in India has received multi-sectoral support including medical fraternity, civil society, youth groups, victims of tobacco use, Department of agriculture and most importantly the Judiciary through Rajasthan High Court. We are hopeful that India’s decision to implement 85% pictorial health warnings from April 2016 will improve noticeability and effectiveness of the warnings and will better inform the consumers especially the illiterate population. No tobacco product should be exempted from displaying these warnings, as evidence is clear that all forms of tobacco products are dangerous. Exempting bidis from displaying warnings would misinform consumers about the risk of using that product vis-a-vis other tobacco products and may lead to health inequality,” said Dr. Monika Arora, Executive Director, HRIDAY.