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Pictorial warnings on tobacco finally hit the market
Published on 9 Jul. 2009 11:34 PM IST
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Pictorial warnings about the dangers of smoking have finally hit the market, more than a month after they were due -- but they are far from being gory as they were meant to be. One such packet, bought Thursday, showed a hazy picture of what appeared to be an individual wearing a white tie with an arrow pointing to a red spot on a black shirt. What it perhaps intended to show was a cancerous spot on the lungs caused by smoking. The packet carried a red and white band declaring “Smoking kills” and another message in black and white: “Tobacco causes cancer”. The date of manufacture on the packet was 06/09, indicating it was manufactured in June but was released into the market only now. Overall, it was a far cry from the government’s May 6 commitment to the Supreme Court that it would ensure dire pictorial warnings like the skull and cross bones or a cancer-disfigured face were carried on the packets of cigarettes and other tobacco products from May 31. Additional Solicitor General Gopal Subramaniam had told the court that the government would not defer beyond May 31 the implementation of the law mandating pictorial warnings on cigarette packets. Approving of the government’s commitment, a bench of judges B.N. Agarwal and G.S. Singhvi had ruled: “No court in the country can pass an order that might hinder the implementation of the law.” The rider came on a plea by senior counsel Indira Jaisingh, who said that the powerful tobacco lobbies that had been behind repeated deferments of the law’s implementation for the last three years might still delay this. Commenting on the first set of pictorial warnings, cigarette seller Banwari Lal said: “If the government thinks this joke of a warning will deter smokers, someone needs his head examined.” Banking executive Pradeep Gupta agreed. “You call this scary? No way!” he maintained as he ripped off the cellophane covering, pulled out a cigarette and lit up. The pictorial warnings are being carried under the Cigarette and Other Tobacco Products (Packing and Labelling) Rules, 2008, that came into effect May 31. The government had Oct 2, 2008 banned smoking in public places in a bid to wean people away from the habit. Smoking has also been banished from the silver screen. Experts say over 900,000 people die every year in India from smoking related diseases. Passive smoking is also one of the major causes of people falling prey to smoking related diseases. India is the world’s second largest tobacco producer after China, providing employment to some 35 million people. There are, however, no reliable estimates of the size of the industry as much of it is in the unorganised sector.

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