NEW DELHI: An estimated one million people die every year due to tobacco-related diseases in India, but the Union Health Ministry has postponed its decision to introduce new graphic health warnings that cover 85% of tobacco packages on both sides beginning April 1. The decision was based on the recommendation of a parliamentary committee headed by BJP Ahmednagar MP Dilip Kumar Gandhi, who said there were no studies out of India to show that tobacco use caused cancer and other diseases. Along with Karnataka and Andhra, Maharashtra is one of the major tobacco-growing states in India. Currently, graphic and text warning cover 40% of the front side of the cigarette pack. Earlier, the photos had been shortlisted for the new warnings last year have now been junked. The new warning labels, with pictures of mouth and throat cancers, were to cover all kinds of tobacco packages, including imported cigarettes and chewing tobacco. Tobacco kills, but politicians in denial
The graphic picture were to cover 60% of the package, and the text warning 25%, the Union Ministry of health and Family Welfare had notified in October last year. The warnings were to be in English and/or the language the brand is sold under, said the October 15 notification issued last year.
The decision to increase the size of pack warning labels , along with increasing the legal age of buying and using tobacco, was part of India’s efforts to lower tobacco use.
USE AND ABUSE
Despite bans on advertising, sale to minors and smoking in public places, more than one in three adults use some form of tobacco in India. India has one of the world’s weakest tobacco warning regimes. Currently, official cautions appear only on one side of the package, covering a mere 20% of the entire packet. According to a 2014 report by the Canadian Cancer Society, India is ranked 136th among 198 countries listed according to the size of their health warnings. The country has slid from a ranking of 123 in 2012, with several countries implementing stronger warnings.
Other Asian countries are far ahead in this regard, with warnings covering 85% of the package on both sides in Thailand, 90% in Sri Lanka and 75% in Nepal. Hard-hitting anti-tobacco advertisements and graphic pack warnings – especially those that include pictures – reduce the number of children who begin smoking and increase the number of smokers who quit, says the WHO.
“Graphic warnings can persuade smokers to protect the health of non-smokers by smoking less inside the home and avoiding smoking near children. Studies carried out after the implementation of pictorial package warnings in Brazil, Canada, Singapore and Thailand consistently show that pictorial warnings significantly increase people’s awareness of the harms of tobacco use,” it says. NEVER TOO LATE TO QUIT If you are a tobacco user, the odds are stacked against you. Smoking and smokeless tobacco kill nearly 6 million people worldwide, says the World Health Organization (WHO). This mean approximately one person dies every six seconds due to tobacco use, which accounts for one in 10 adult deaths. Up to half of current users will eventually die of a tobacco-related disease, estimates the WHO. Cigarette smoke contains over 4,800 chemicals, 69 of which are known to cause cancer, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services. Apart from cancers, smoking is also a major risk factor in chronic bronchitis, heart disease and stroke; and other conditions and disorders such as slowed healing of wounds, infertility, and peptic ulcer disease.
Unchecked, tobacco-related deaths from cancers, heart disease, lung diseases and stroke, among others, is expected to rise to over 8 million annually by 2030, 1.5 million of them in India. Quitting tobacco has immediate and long-term benefits; with former smokers have the same health risks as non-smokers 15 years after kicking the butt. Now, doing something with the information is the tough.