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Govt Says Won’t Bow to Pressure Tactics, as Tobacco Cos Protest Against 85% Warning Rule on Packs

Govt Says Won’t Bow to Pressure Tactics, as Tobacco Cos Protest Against 85% Warning Rule on Packs

Major tobacco companies have shut down their plants in protest of the health ministry ruling that mandates 85% graphic warning on cigarette packs, but the government refuses to budge to reduce the health burden of tobacco in India.

The government in India is stepping up its game against cigarette manufacturers. Major tobacco companies have lashed out after the recent ruling issued by the health ministry, that mandated cigarette packs to have graphic health warnings covering 85% of the pack. The ruling, issued in September 2015 and set to come into effect in the month of April, also applies to packs sold at duty free, as well as imported brands.

On April 2, ITC and Godfrey Phillips, both major players in the Indian tobacco sector, shut down their factories in protest.

Representational image
Source: Wikimedia Commons

ITC is owned in part by British American Tobacco, while Godfrey Phillips is a partner of Philip Morris International, based in the US.

Before the new ruling, only 40% of the front of the pack had to be dedicated to health warnings. The harsh ruling is a sign that the government is fighting hard to reduce incidences of smoking and its related diseases.

According to ITC, the shut down costs the industry around Rs 350 crores a day. Spokespersons from ITC said that the move was impractical, and that the company refused to comply unless a compromise was reached. Godfrey Phillips, however, said to Reuters that it was working on printing new covers for the packs.

ITC claims that the ruling is ambiguous and in contradiction with a statement from the parliamentary panel which said that only 40% of the pack needs to have health warnings. However, the panel recommendation has no bearing on the health ministry ruling. In a quote to Times of India, a government official said, “Where is the ambiguity? The matter is very clear and what has been done is done.”

Anti-tobacco campaigners hail the government for its strong stand on tobacco companies and its refusal to bow down to pressure tactics. Amit Yadav, director, southeast Asia region at Framework Convention Alliance for Tobacco Control, a group of more than 350 organisations, said to Reuters, “The ministry has handled industry pressure well, it is a commendable step.”

This ruling adds to the government’s list of measures to ensure that the public is well aware of the dangers of smoking.

Representational image
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Taxes on cigarettes went up by 118% per individual stick after 2012, while the government also mandated that smoking in films is banned.

Indian tobacco companies sell at least 95 billion cigarette sticks a year. No wonder then, that about 1 million deaths in the country are attributable to cigarette smoking. In a statement to the Times of India, WHO representative Henk Bekedam said, “The economic burden attributable to tobacco-related diseases is a staggering Rs. 1,04,500 crore annually in the country, while human cost nearly a million deaths.” Strict measures by the government such as this 85% rule could save millions of Indians from direct and passive smoking.

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