India’s Global Image Suffers a Major Setback

Bangalore, December 16: In a major setback for public health, the Karnataka High Court yesterday struck down the Cigarette and other Tobacco Products (Packaging and Labelling) Amendment Rules, 2014 that mandated 85 percent pictorial warnings on all tobacco products sold in India. The current pictorial warnings on both sides of all tobacco packages of cigarettes, bidis and all forms of chewing tobacco products came into effect from April 2016 upon the direction of Rajasthan High Court and subsequently Supreme Court of India and have been in effect for almost 2 years. “We don't still know what yesterday’s Karnataka High Court Order exactly says as the lawyers present in Court are giving out contradictory versions about it. However, if the Bench has struck down the 85% pictorial warnings, then this order is a major setback for public health. It is critical to protect our youth from the dangers of tobacco and we must do everything to defend the Government’s decision of 85 percent pictorial warnings on all tobacco packages”, says the Karnataka based oncologist, Dr Vishal Rao.

The recently released Global Adult TobaccoSurvey (GATS) 2016-17 by Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW)had put to rest all apprehensions about the effectiveness of thewarnings, since 62% of cigarette smokers and 54% of bidismokers shared that they had thought of quitting because of the 85percent pictorial warnings on the packets. And 46% of smokeless tobacco usersthought of quitting because of the warnings on smokeless tobaccoproducts.  Such tobacco control efforts have saved 81 lakhs lives inIndia as per GATS-2.

It is sad that the High Court of Karnataka notonly quashed these warnings covering 85% of display area of all tobaccopackages but also directed earlier warnings covering only 20% of display areato be implemented.  This willresult in India’s global ranking for pictorial warnings to revert back to 106th inthe world from its current  3rd position.  Thisdecision will impact India’s global image and cast doubts  on itscommitment to protect and promote its citizens’ health.  Similarwarnings on tobacco packs have been upheld by the courts in other countries(Srilanka, Thailand, Australia, UK, Canada etc)

“The Honourable High Court of Karnataka is saidto have passed an order yesterday striking down the mandatory 85% pictorialwarnings on tobacco packs. Taking the Order to be what is reported in somesection of the media, Mr.Narendra Modi's ambitious goal of leading the world infight against tobacco takes a massive body blow today. With 85% pictorialwarnings, India was No.3 in the world but this judgment will push India to 106th  inthe world”, said  Karnataka High Court and Supreme Court advocate KVDhananjay.

Pictorial health warnings on tobacco productsare the most cost-effective tool for educating on the health risks of tobaccouse. In a country like India, where people use several languages and dialects,the pictorial warning transcends the language and in many caseilliteracy barrier. Thanks to these images, there has been a change inperception, which is reason why 92% of adults surveyed underGATS believed smoking caused serious illness, and 96% said use ofsmokeless tobacco causes serious illness. It was also found that there has beena growing demand for cessation centres as 55% of smokers and 50% of smokelesstobacco users were planning or thinking of quitting tobacco use.

Bhavna Mukhopadhyay of VHAI said “It's a verysad day for public health in India - these warnings were proven to be highlyeffective by the recent Global Adult Tobacco Survey conducted by Government ofIndia to prevent millions from starting to use tobacco and even gettingusers to think about quitting”. According to MoHFW-WHO supported PHFI study,estimated that the total economic costs attributable to tobacco use from alldiseases in India in the year 2011 amounted to a staggering Rs 1, 04,500 crores— 12% more than the combined state and central government expenditure on healthcare in the same year. 

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