The notification orders tobacco producers to place textual warnings on 25 per cent and picture warnings on 60 per cent of both sides of tobacco product packets, in contrast to current requirements of text and picture on only 20 per cent on a single side.
The order, which is expected to come into effect from April 1, 2015, comes a day after the Canadian Cancer Society ranked India 136 among 198 countries assessed on the size of picture health warnings on tobacco products.
“India will skyrocket from 136th position to top position when this order comes into effect,” said Jaspreet Kaur Pal, who works in New Delhi with The Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, an international non-government organisation.
The government notification has specified two sets of images — one pair displaying advanced throat cancer for smoking products such as cigarettes and bidis, the other pair displaying advanced mouth cancer for smokeless and chewable tobacco products.
One picture will have to be used from April 2015 through March 2016 and other set from April 2016 through March 2017. The images will need to be accompanied by textual warnings: “Smoking causes throat cancer”, and “Tobacco causes mouth cancer”.
An expert panel set up by the health ministry selected the two sets of images from a set of 10 that were field tested to determine their effectiveness.
“We want to tell people that tobacco means death,” minister Harsh Vardhan said. Activists in India have long been campaigning for stricter picture warnings, arguing that they will help people avoid taking up tobacco or quit the habit.
A report released by the Canadian Cancer Society in Moscow on Monday had listed India at 136th position, while Thailand, Australia and Uruguay, where health warnings cover 85 per cent to 80 per cent of the surface area of tobacco product packets, were at the top.
“This is a landmark decision in the history of tobacco control in India,” said Bhavna Mukhopadhyay of the Voluntary Health Association of India, a non-government agency campaigning against tobacco.
But health activists say they expect the tobacco industry to challenge the notification. “Experience shows that when the size of the mandatory warnings expands beyond 60 per cent, the industry challenges it,” said a health activist who requested not to be named.