India: Pictorial warnings on cigarette packs watered down

Nov 5, 2009

Pictorial warnings on cigarette packets recently introduced by the government are about to be phased out, reports say. It is a clear attempt to safe guard the interest of the people involved in the tobacco industry and to keep the government’s crucial vote bank intact.


Initially, there were some gruesome pictures that depicted the worse possible effects of tobacco on the human body. These pictures were first notified by the Health Ministry in July 2006 as pictorial warnings for cigarette and gutka packets. But these pictures were shot down by the Group of Ministers (GoM) as ‘objectionable’.


Former Union Labour Minister, Oscar Fernandes said, “If we’re talking about making the pictures harsher, we may as well shut down the industry. There are several districts in West Bengal where poor bidi workers earn their livelihood from this.”


In a meeting of the GoM chaired by Pranab Mukherjee in July 2007, it was decided that the picture of the dead body be replaced with a ‘suitable’ one.


The minutes of the meeting available with CNN-IBN show that in the GoM, Pranab Mukharjee said, “A number of representations have been received from the bidi industry that employs a large number of workers from the weaker sections of society. The basic issues raised by the bidi industry relate to the size, colour and obnoxious nature of the pictorial warnings. Keeping this is view, the pictorial warnings may be modified.”


The GOM also asked the Health Ministry to consult the Ministry of Law and remove the ‘skull and cross bone’ as a warning sign.


On February 26, 2008 the GoM finalized the pictures in which the pictorial warnings were completely watered down from the graphic ones to ones that make one wonder if the warnings are in fact serious enough or not.


Pranab Mukhejee won from the Jangipur constituency. It is notable that the Jangipur constituency has a sizable population of bidi workers. Votebank politics may well affect the way the smoke blows in the bidi, cigarette warning.


Source: CNN-IBN (November 3, 2009)