IMA lauds Health Ministry for implementing 85% Pictorial Health Warnings on Tobacco products
Pictorial health warnings (PHWs) are the most effective way of communicating the ill-effects of tobacco use, particularly among those with low literacy or no formal education. In a country like India, where one-third of the population is illiterate, these pictorial health warnings communicate health messages effectively and can influence decisions.
Large and effective PHWs discourage non-users, the youth in particular, from starting; encourage current users to stop and also prevent relapse of those who have already quit. They detract from the glamour and appeal of tobacco product packages and help gain public acceptance for other tobacco-control measures such as establishing smoke-free norms.
Tobacco control advocacy has a long history in India and the movement has gained momentum in recent years.
In February 2014, the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Govt. of India (MoHFW), constituted an Expert Committee to study global standards on PHWs and suggest field-tested warnings for notification. Based on the Committee’s suggestions MoHFW amended the packaging and labeling rules and notified new set of Rules on October 15, 2014 with 85% pictorial health warnings on both sides of the pack to be implemented from April 1, 2015. However, while reviewing the Rules, a Lok Sabha Committee on Subordinate Legislation (CoSL) in its interim report recommended delaying the implementation after intense pressure from the tobacco industry and requested time to study the issue. The 85% pictorial health warnings were delayed by one year and set for implementation on April 1, 2016. Consequently, in June 2015 Mr. Rahul Joshi filed a PIL in Rajasthan High Court seeking implementation of the larger pictorial health warning, wherein the Court directed MoHFW to implement the October 2014 notification. The Karnataka High Court too vacated a stay sought by the Karnataka Beedi Industry Association, in February 2016, citing the Supreme Court’s 2009 observation that no court in the country could pass an adverse order against the implementation of the pictorial health warnings.
On March 15, 2016, the CoSL in its final report advised reducing the PHW size to 50%.
The IMA-led Doctors for Tobacco Control in India (DFTCI) forum, which consists of organizations like HRIDAY, Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI), Cardiological Society of India, Indian Academy of Pediatrics, Association of Physicians of India, and many other stakeholders, at its first planning meeting on March 23rd decided to write letters of support for implementation of 85% PHW on both sides of tobacco packages to the President, Vice President, Prime Minister, Health Minister and Finance Minister.
A white paper on strong scientific evidence on the need for 85% PHWs, an SMS campaign with over 2.5 lakh doctors, press releases and bytes, a letter of support from Padma Awardee Doctors Forum were some of the other initiatives that IMA conducted.
Despite relentless tobacco industry pressure, the MoHFW remained steadfast in its commitment and on April 1, 2016, the Health Ministry's notification for implementation of the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Packaging and Labelling) Amendment Rules, 2014 prescribing 85% PHWs on front and backs of tobacco packages came into effect in India. The Government received tremendous support from civil society actors on its decision not to consider the CoSL report.
IMA lauds the Ministry for maintaining its stand and will support it to ensure strong enforcement of 85% PHWs on both sides of tobacco packs.