Pictorial warnings on tobacco products are set to get scarier.
After almost a year of mild warnings, the government has decided to shift to more powerful messages. Tobacco products will now carry pictures of mouth cancer, showing rotting teeth and lips.
A notification was issued by the health ministry on March 5 and the new warnings will come into force from June 1. These would be implemented under the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Packaging and Labelling Amendment) Rules, 2010.
The warnings show a real picture of mouth cancer with a caption “tobacco causes mouth cancer”. Cigarette packs will carry the same picture with the caption “smoking kills”, while chewing or smokeless products will carry the caption “tobacco kills”. The new warnings have been pretested for their effectiveness by the Voluntary Health Association of India (VHAI) and the Healis-Sekhsaria Institute for Public Health.
“The new warnings are certainly an improvement over the previous ones. Older warnings, which showed an X-ray of a lung or a diseased lung or a scorpion, were not effective,” said Dr K. Srinath Reddy of the Public Health Foundation of India.
Research in developed countries has shown that depicting the health impact of tobacco in the form of pictures was effective.
The new warnings were fieldtested in Orissa, Bihar, Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh by VHAI. In Maharashtra, these were tested by the Healis-Sekhsaria Institute for Public Health.
The study was conducted using 11 images and response was sought from 735 people, including tobacco-users, women and youth. Ninety-eight per cent of people said the pictures of mouth cancer would deter tobacco-users.
“They said they will not send their children to buy cigarettes if these pictures were printed on tobacco products,” Bhavna Mukhopadhya of the VHAI said. The study was sent to the health ministry last month.
Pictorial warnings were enforced on May 31 last year after the intervention of the Supreme Court. The apex court had directed the government to enforce the rules strictly.
The pictorial warnings were proposed in July 2006 under the Cigarette and Other Tobacco Products Act, 2003. Back then, the proposal was to print warnings in the form of pictures of skull and bones, real-life pictures of cancer patients, dead bodies, and a child dying due to the effects of smoking and mouth cancer lacerations and tumours.
However, the warnings that came into effect last year were milder.
Health experts said the government should also focus on the implementation of new warnings as tobacco companies were violating the rules.
Pictorial scarier message on tobacco packs before No Smoking Day
The ministry of health and social welfare proposed new pictorial health warnings which shall be implemented from 01-Jun-2010. The health ministry has considered the findings made by the VHAI (Voluntary Health Association of India) before deciding upon the pictorial warning messages.
This move has come just days before the ‘No Smoking Day’ (every 2nd Wednesday of March month is celebrated as No Smoking Day). The critiques of smoking surely couldn’t have asked for a better gift for this day.
VHAI field tested the proposed pictorial warning in seven states in India namely Orissa, Bihar, Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh and is really surprised with the results they have achieved.
VHAI tested a new pictorial warning that shows a cancerous mouth with a warning message that reads “Tobacco causes mouth cancer”. This sign shall be common for both the chewing tobacco packs and cigarette packs. It would replace the earlier picture of scorpion and lung sign. The scorpion sign was required for gutka, chewing tobacco packs and the diseased lung sign was required for cigarette pack.
The pictorial warnings were made compulsory from May 31, 2009 under the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco products (Packaging and labeling) Rules 2008 which was following a Supreme Court directive. The rule required that the pictorial message should cover atleast 40% of the entire pack and the pictorial warnings should be changed after every 12 months to ensure it meets its required effectiveness. Effectively it would be for the first time that health ministry has proposed changing the pictorial message.
VHAI field tested that having a scarier message would help 98% of the people in (the polled seven states) to quit smoking or chewing tobacco habit. 734 people were polled from seven states with the new pictorial warning before the notification was served to implement this change. VHAI also said that although the step was taken in the right direction initially the earlier pictorial message was not effective and didn’t meet its target.
This move from the health ministry is a necessary step considering that almost 40% of India’s health problems are as a result of tobacco use. Every day almost 2200 people die in India due to tobacco related diseases.