Tobacco industry safer, consumers not

The tobacco industry lobby won a significant victory recently when it succeeded in getting the government to amend the Tobacco Act 2003. The act had a provision for pictures displayed on products, warning about the harmful effects of smoking or consuming tobacco. These were to be displayed on all tobacco products like cigarettes, bidis and even gutkha.

It had not been implemented, however, as the industry was lobbying against the mandatory pictures that had been notified. The original pictures were a graphic of a skull and cross-bones and a picture of a corpse. These have been done away with and the government now has a discretionary power to notify the pictures, which it has done so. These pictures show what tobacco can do and are quite gory as such. While the skull and cross-bones would have been effective even if in a miniature form, it remains to be seen how clear these pictures are, when reproduced in a small size or in black and white on bidi packs (which are generally wrapped in paper). These pictures will start appearing on all tobacco products after December 1 2007.

More pictures in different languages can be seen on the Health Ministry website at Will the tobacco industry get hit by these new rules imposed on them? Will a few pictures on the back of a cigarette pack make a person kick the habit? This is the first time that images are being used to convey what smoking can do to a person, which is good even since images are more effective in sending the message across.

The government is surely aware of the health aspects and the social costs involved. But the fact that it caved in to industry pressure to tone down the images shows that having one of the highest incidences of taxation has its advantages too.

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