Signalling the effectiveness of enforcement drives by Police, Health and Excise departments, findings of an independent observational study reveal that leading cigarette companies have switched over to the display of the new 85 per cent pictorial graphic warnings.
The study conducted in June 2016 – just two months after the date of implementation of 85 per cent pictorial warnings on 1 April 2016 – revealed that all cigarette packs were compliant with the three labelling requirements: minimum size, language, and visibility of health warnings.
Hundred cigarette packs from ten brands of two tobacco companies were observed during the week-long survey conducted under the coordination of Voluntary Health Association in India. Trained field agents observed tobacco vendors including kiosks, small grocery stores, and street vendors in both high and low-income regions of Thiruvananthapuram, as a part of the survey in eight states of India.
A similar analysis of 100 bidi packets showed that none of them was compliant to graphic health warnings. A follow-up quick observation survey in early September showed that bidis manufactured by a cooperative sector company in Kerala are compliant to the new rules.
Field agents reported non-availability of smokeless tobacco products though there are media reports of their easy clandestine availability, especially near educational institutions.
It was on 1 April 2016 that the Government of India mandated that tobacco product packs bear 85 per cent pictorial warnings including 60 per cent pictorial and 25 per cent text on the principal display area on front and back measuring 3.5 cm in width and 4 cm in height. Smoking forms of tobacco products have to display the warning, “Smoking causes throat cancer”.
The Union Health Ministry, had in May 2016, written to all states to ensure that tobacco products without the mandated warnings be withdrawn from the market latest by 31 May 2016 and that tobacco products be allowed for sales only after printing, pasting or affixing the new warnings.
The State Police Chief Shri Loknath Behera had directed South and North Zone ADGPs, Range IGs and District Police Chiefs to take action including confiscation of tobacco product packs without the stipulated health warnings.
Thanking the enforcement efforts, Dr Paul Sebastian, Director, Regional Cancer Centre and Chairman, Tobacco Free Kerala said, “As many as 40,000 lives are lost in Kerala every year due to tobacco use. Large-sized pictorial warnings on tobacco product packs are the easiest way of communicating tobacco harms among children and persons with low literacy. The key is to prevent tobacco use initiation,” he added while acknowledging the support of medical professionals, students, teachers, and the Kerala public in the campaign for large pictorial warnings.