Health Ministry’s plan to introduce pictorial warnings covering 85 per cent of the display area on the front and back sides of tobacco products from April 1, 2016 has hit a major roadblock. – Photo: R. Prasad
Two weeks before pictorial warnings covering 85 per cent of the principal display area of the front and back sides of all tobacco products can become effective, a Parliamentary Committee on Subordinate Legislation report tabled in the Lok Sabha today said that the requirement will be “too harsh” on the tobacco industry and will result in “flooding of illicit cigarettes”. The 15-member committee has recommended that pictorial warnings be restricted to only 50 per cent on both the sides of the cigarette packets.
In the case of bidis, chewing tobacco and other tobacco products, the committee has recommended that the warning be restricted 50 per cent of the display area and on only one side of the packet.
In the case of bidis, it said that there would be “virtually no space left for printing the brand name and logo” if 85 per cent of area is earmarked for printing the warning on both sides of the packet. It is “impossible to print the pictorial warning on both sides as the beedi packet has practically only a single round surface”, the committee noted. The committee has not stated the logic for restricting the warning to only one side in the case of chewing tobacco products.
In October 2014, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare had first proposed that 85 per cent of a cigarette packet’s surface area on both the sides should carry health warnings, up from 40 per cent on one side of the packet. It was opposed by the tobacco industry and put on hold after the parliamentary panel said it needed to analyze the impact on the industry.
The committee noted that besides causing “significant rise in illicit tobacco products” the proposed health warning would “severely impact the domestic cigarette industry” and affect the livelihood of thousands of tobacco farmers and workers.
“Being a Committee on Subordinate Legislation, its mandate is only to look at whether the Cigarette and Other Tobacco Products (Packaging and Labelling) Amendment Rules, 2014 are in confirmation with the legislation under which they are made,” said Amit Yadav, Director of Public Health Law and Advocacy at the Delhi-based Hriday. “They are supposed to look if the legislation violates the constitutional principle and not supposed to frame the regulation or the legislation.
“The Health Ministry had field tested dummy bidi packets with 85 per cent warning on both sides,” said Dr. Monika Arora of Public Health Foundation of India, Delhi dismissing the claim that larger warnings would leave no space for carrying the brand name and logo.