Features Tuesday, April 07, 2015 - 05:30
In April 2014, a Parliamentary panel on subordinate legislation examining the provisions of Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act, asked the government to keep plans of increasing pictorial warnings on tobacco products to 85% in abeyance. It was in 2006 that India’s health warnings policy was first drafted. But there was no consensus on how graphic the warnings should be. After two sets of revisions in 2006 and 2007, the first set of health warnings were approved by a Group of Ministers lead by Pranab Mukherjee in 2008. The warnings shown below, were approved initially, then toned down dramatically in 2008. In spite of toning down the warnings, they were not implemented for months. After postponing the implementation of the pictorial warnings seven times, it was finally done on May 31, 2009. After years of discussion and debate, one would have expected that the warnings would be worth it, but one of the three pictorial warnings was the picture of a scorpion, though it was meant to be a crab.  (Hippocrates used the terms carcinos and carcinoma to describe non-ulcer forming and ulcer-forming tumors. In Greek, these words refer to a crab, most likely applied to the disease because the finger-like spreading projections from a cancer called to mind the shape of a crab. The Roman physician, Celsus (28-50 BC), later translated the Greek term into cancer, the Latin word for crab. Source- Cancer.org.) Two other pictorial warnings from that period on cigarette packets show corroded lungs in one and an x-ray image of damaged lungs in a picture which lacked in clarity. The Congress in 2009 had defended its stand of toning down the warnings. A CNN IBN article quotes Congress leader Oscar Fernandes, “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.” It had also been reported then that as Pranab Mukhejee won from the Jangipur constituency, that has a sizable population of bidi workers, this was one of the reasons why the government was not keen on harsh warnings. Tobacco packets between 2011 and 2013 though, contained graphic images of people suffering from oral cancer which was visible distinctly. The warning on cigarette packets during the same phase were controversial for another reason altogether. They carried a doctored picture of the then English football captain John Terry with corroded lungs. After Terry found out and threatened to sue the government at the start of 2012, another picture, with just his head taken off, was used for another year. Between 2013 and 2015 again, the warnings on cigarette packets concentrated on the lungs again, not looking to focus on oral cancers or those of the throat. Packets of tobacco did not change during this period either. The images that were proposed to be put on tobacco packets from April 1, 2015 were these: The graphic content of the images is a dramatic increase from previous versions and it could be the reason why they have not been issued.  

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