Nov 29, 2008

India - Govt bows down to tobacco industry pressure

New Delhi, Nov 28 (ANI/Business Wire India): The tobacco control community and public health organizations strongly condemn the shocking decision taken at a meeting of the GoM on November 24 to defer the much awaited implementation of pictorial warnings on all tobacco products from November 30.

This decision has been repeatedly postponed several times since February 2007.

According to Alok Mukhopadhyay, Chief Executive, VHAI, "It is a matter of great shame that the guardians of the largest democracy in the world decide to put aside the critical health concerns of Indian citizens to boost the health and profits of the tobacco industry, particularly the bidi sector."

The bidi industry which is talking about lost jobs for its workers if pictorial warnings are implemented is the same which does not pay minimum wages, exploits women and children, constantly exposes its workers to hazardous substances, flouts labour laws and spreads serious illnesses and death.

Ironically, the news of this postponement came in while at Durban, South Africa, India along with nearly 160 nations came together on November 22 and signed a treaty unanimously adopting the guidelines for Article 11 of the Framework Convention of Tobacco Control (FCTC), which refers to the packaging and labeling of tobacco products.

The Government of India was present in that meeting and its decision to implement pack warnings was greatly applauded in the conference of parties.

According to Bhavna B Mukhopadhyay, Senior Director, VHAI, "The government should set up strong and transparent mechanisms at the highest levels to prevent industry interference in the implementation of tobacco control measures and policy making processes. Since the tobacco industry sells a product that kills one million people in India annually, therefore, industry's interests will always be in conflict with the nation's public health and economic aspirations."

Pictorial warnings on tobacco products are intended to increase consumer knowledge of the deadly health effects of tobacco consumption, to encourage cessation and to discourage uptake.

In India, they also break the linguistic and cultural barrier, in addition to informing the illiterate population (a large proportion of this segment smoke bidis), about the harms of tobacco use.

Around 17 countries around the world including Brazil, Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong, Uruguay, Chile, Venezuela and a number of other developed nations have successfully introduced picture-based warnings and many of them are stronger with gorier images than the proposed Indian pictures.

In a survey in Brazil, three months after the introduction of new picture warnings in April 2002, 73 per cent of smokers approved of them, 54 per cent had changed their opinion on the health consequences of smoking and 67 per cent said that the new health warnings made them want to quit the habit. Similar is the experience of countries like Canada and Australia.

The evidence is unequivocal that warning labels improve public health. (ANI)

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