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Recently the Union Health Ministry issued a notice that makes it mandatory for the Cigarette Manufacturers to print pictorial warnings against cigarettes on both sides of the packets. The notice also mandates to cover up at least 85 percent of the space on the cigarette packets under the statutory warning, with a picture and a message written in any Indian language or English.

This is not the first time that the ministry has taken some step towards making consumers aware of the perils of smoking , In the past few years from making statutory warning a mandatory requirement to blurring smoking scenes altogether from the movies, Union Ministry has taken a variety of actions. Now the question to be considered is whether such measures have been effective at all?

According to a survey carried out in 2009 by the ‘Asian Pacific Journal of Cancer Prevention’, while most of the consumers of tobacco agreed that pictorial warnings are more effective than text warnings, the interpretations of these pictures printed on the packets varied among the consumers for lack of clarity. Hence the ministry should also ensure that the message and the picture be placed in very clear term on the packets. As per the report ‘The Cigarette Package Health Warnings: International Status Report 2014’ released in Moscow earlier this week, India has slipped to 136th position in the list of 198 countries that warn smokers about the hazards of smoking through graphic pictures on cigarette packages.

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It is very interesting to know that India is a signatory to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, but it has not complied with the minimum rules. The rules make it mandatory to print a pictorial warning on both sides of the packets. Also, one of the clauses of the treaty is to ban tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, in this direction hardly any measures have been taken by the Central government’s Union Health Ministry. The Indian masses are an impressionable lot, the celebrities endorsing alcohol and cigarettes should be extremely cautious of the possible impact their promotion may have on their followers, Remember we live in a country where people commit suicide when their motherly chief minister goes to jail under charges of corruption.

The step is definitely one taken to comply with the international commitments India has, by reason of being a signatory to the WHO framework Convention on tobacco Control and is a welcoming step. But certainly the cigarette manufacturers and the government will have to adopt more pronounced methods of fighting against tobacco and ensure a total implementation of the above guidelines.

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