New Delhi: The new law making it mandatory for all tobacco products to carry stricter pictorial warnings came into force today but its implementation was not visible on the ground.

According to the new Cigarette and other Tobacco Products (Packaging and Labelling) Amendment Rules, 2012, notified on September 27, 2012, all tobacco product packs in the country were to carry new pictorial warnings notified by the Union Ministry of Health from April 1 onwards.

A set of three warnings each was notified by the Health Ministry for smoking as well as smokeless forms of tobacco product packages that all tobacco products were required to carry on their products from today.

Despite the new law coming into force, tobacco product packs of various forms failed to carry the new pictorial health warnings and were seen carrying the old pictorial warnings. Sources say the industry is asking for more time for implementing the notification and have already met and represented before Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad and other top Ministry officials.

The Health Ministry is examining the request but the notification has not been kept in abeyance. Any contravention of the new law entails penalty in the form of fine and/or imprisonment.

The Health Ministry has made stricter pictorial warnings on smoking and smokeless forms of tobacco to help make them much more effective than the previous ones. The new pictorial warnings focused in detail the portion of the human body affected by tobacco use.

The Health Ministry had also for the first time inserted the word 'Warning' in the new pictorial warnings and mandated that this word be printed in 'red' colour along with the messages -- 'Smoking kills' and 'Tobacco kills'.

The new stricter pictures images will replace the currently used images including the controversial image of English footballer John Terry, whose managers had threatened the Ministry with legal action in case the image remained in circulation.

Since India began enforcing pictorial warnings on tobacco products, government also specified the dimensions which a tobacco manufacturer would have to compulsorily maintain in each health warning to be printed on the pack before it hits the markets.

This would prevent the industry from diluting the effectiveness of such pack warnings. "The size of all components of the specified health warning shall be so kept as to maintain a ratio of 0.75: 1 between the vertical length and horizontal length of the specified health warning," the notification on pictorial warning says.

The new notification makes it mandatory for all tobacco makers - both smoking forms and smokeless - to maintain pictorial warnings in the states format and also to place the health warning in at least 40 per cent of the principal display area of the tobacco package.

Though three sets of pictorial warnings comprising images of diseased mouth, lungs and throat have been notified for smokeless and smoking forms each, the same are not found depicted on any tobacco product packs available in the market.

Tobacco product retailers and distributors who fail to comply with the new rules can face a fine extending to Rs 1,000, imprisonment up to one year or both under Section 20 of Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act, 2003 (COTPA). On their first conviction, they can face fines up to Rs 5,000 or imprisonment up to two years or both.

In India, tobacco is the single largest contributor to cancer deaths and led to 71 per cent of the 5.25 lakh cancer deaths in the country in 2010 and 5.35 lakh in 2011. According to the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) India Report 2009-10, among the 34.6 percent current adult (15 plus age group) tobacco users, 25.9 percent use smokeless form of tobacco (206 million users).

"The tobacco companies have been given more than ample time to ensure the new picture warnings on tobacco packs. It is now time for enforcement agencies to ensure effective compliance and bring violators to book," said Bhavna Mukhopadhyay, Executive Director, Voluntary Health Association of India.


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