India has been ranked fifth in the listing of countries that have pictorial health warning on tobacco products, with experts here quick to add that the country is making tremendous progress towards creating public awareness on the health hazards of tobacco abuse.
‘The Cigarette Package Health Warnings: International Status Report’ was released recently by the Canadian Cancer Society which documents global progress on plain packaging. It has ranked 206 countries and territories on the size of their health warnings on cigarette packages, and lists countries and territories that require graphic picture warnings.
East Timor is ranked first with 85% of the front and 100% of the back of the packaging being used for pictorial warnings. Nepal follows with 90% coverage on both sides. Indian packaging has the warning on 85% of both sides. The report found that 118 countries and territories have now made picture health warnings on cigarette packages mandatory, up from 100 in 2016. Canada was the first to insist on picture health warnings in 2001.
India, meanwhile, is the only SAARC country to have a Quit-Line number on tobacco products and the fourth in Asia after Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore.
“This is because of the Union Health Ministry’s notification on the new set of 85% pictorial health warnings for mandatory display on both sides of the packet of cigarettes, bidis and chewing tobacco with effect from September 1, 2018. Government of India for the first time introduced Quit-Line number to be printed on all tobacco products,” said Binoy Mathew of the Voluntary Health Association of India, an organisation working in the area of tobacco control.
“The pack warning will help to warn people, especially the illiterate and children, about the harms of tobacco consumption. The Quit-Line number will help those who want to quit,” said Dr. Harit Chaturvedi, chairman, surgical oncology, Max Health Care, New Delhi.
The current pictorial warnings on both sides of all packets of cigarettes, bidis and all forms of chewing tobacco products in India came into effect in April 2016 on the direction of the Rajasthan High Court and, subsequently, the Supreme Court of India.
“India has demonstrated global leadership by implementing the quit-line number on all tobacco packages… India will serve as a very positive model for other countries, thus benefiting public health worldwide,” said Bhavna Mukhopadhyay, chief executive, Voluntary Health Association of India. She said pictorial health warnings on tobacco products are the most cost-effective tool for educating people on the health risks of tobacco use.
“In a country like India, where people use several languages and dialects, the pictorial warning transcends the language and in many cases also the illiteracy barrier. The 85% pictorial warnings on all cigarettes, bidis and chewing tobacco packages manufactured and sold in India have resulted in 92% of adults (surveyed under GATS 2016-2017) believing that smoking caused serious illness and 96% saying use of smokeless tobacco causes serious illness,” she noted.