India: Plans for plain packaging

July 26, 2012

After putting pictorial health warnings on tobacco products, the Union Health Ministry plans to push for plain packaging.

Plain packaging could help bring down tobacco usage by heightening the effect of pictorial warnings, said a policy document by Australia-India Institute Taskforce on Tobacco Control released in New Delhi on Monday.

According to the plain packaging legislation in Australia, packaging of cigarette and hand-rolled cigarettes cannot have colours, embossing, logos, brand images and promotional information.

“We have a huge young population addicted to tobacco. Plain packaging, particularly the Australian case study, can be an example for India,” said Shakuntala Gamlin, Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Health.

“Despite inter-ministerial differences, we have been able to flag the issue of tobacco control. We are moving ahead. Let’s see how plain packaging can be introduced in India,” she said.

The Global Adult Tobacco Survey says India has nearly 274.9 million tobacco users, the third-largest in the world. Tobacco kills nearly one million people every year due to related diseases such as cancer, heart and lung illness.

While the document recommends that India can introduce plain packaging as part of the comprehensive approach to combat tobacco use, experts say the country also needs to tighten enforcement and implementation of anti-tobacco laws.

“The laws have to be stricter and implementation needs to be strong. Government officials need to be sensitised so that they understand the whole tobacco issue,” said Monika Arora, head of health promotion and tobacco control at Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI).

“We are going to propose the policy document on plain packaging to the government through a series of consultations and face-to-face meetings. This will be with the key ministries involved – law ministry, health ministry and ministry of trade and commerce,” Ms. Arora told IANS.

The taskforce includes tobacco control experts from PHFI, Nossal Institute of Global Health from Melbourne (Australia) and voluntary organisations International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Diseases and HRIDAY (Health Related Information Dissemination Amongst Youth).

“The tobacco industry uses attractive packaging and aggressive marketing to lure people. India must initiate legislation on plain packaging and ensure implementation of a policy that will have tremendous public health impact,” said K. Srinath Reddy, president, PHFI.

Source: The Hindu (July 23, 2012)