Every year, six million people are killed by tobacco. 600,000 of these deaths occur among non-smokers due to the effects of second-hand smoking. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), India is home to roughly 12% of the world’s smokers, or 120 million people. Tobacco claims the lives of 900,000 Indians annually.
India’s War Against Tobacco:
Legislation against tobacco dates back to 1975, when statutory health warnings were mandated on cigarette packs. Pictorial warnings against smoking on cigarette packets came into effect in 2009, requiring at least 40% of the cigarette package to display warnings about the health consequences of consuming tobacco. This was recently increased to 85%. Smoking in public places was banned across the country from Gandhi Jayanti, 2008.
However, in spite of public awareness programs and mass documentation of the adverse health effects of smoking, tobacco remains the most common cause of preventable death worldwide. A University of Toronto study found that the number of male smokers in India had increased by 36% between 1998 and 2015. Tobacco smokers have steadily decreased in the last two years, while the number of female smokers as almost doubled in the past three decades. Tobacco companies generate over 29,000 crore annually and, according to The Tobacco Institute of India (TII), tobacco provides livelihood to 45.7 million Indians.
WHO’s Statement on Plain Packaging of Tobacco Products:
To control tobacco usage, the WHO recently urged governments to enforce plain packaging of tobacco products. Plain tobacco packaging – or homogeneous packaging – is packaging that mandates the removal of all branding, allowing manufacturers to print only the brand name and large health warnings.
The WHO argued that tobacco packaging makes products more attractive and deceives users into believing that some products are less harmful than others. “We do this for a very good reason: plain packaging works,” WHO’s Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan said. “New evidence from Australia, the first country to fully implement plain packaging, shows that changes to tobacco packaging there led to over 100,000 fewer smokers in Australia in the first 34 months since implementation in 2012.” Australia’s experiment with plain packaging began in 2012, and the country has seen a slight decline in smokers ever since. Many countries have followed suit – including France and the United Kingdom.
In India, the Union Health Ministry used Twitter on 29 May 2016 to endorse WHO’s call for more governments to implement plain tobacco packaging, igniting speculation that the Centre might introduce legislation to enforce plain packaging of all tobacco products.
The tobacco industry in India, however, appealed against plain packaging. “Any proposal to implement plain packaging in India … will be a further assault on the intellectual property rights of legal manufacturers and promote the cause of smuggled foreign brands,” TII said in a statement.
This World No Tobacco Day, The Logical Indian requests the government and the public to extensively debate plain packaging of tobacco products. Australia’s efforts have been met with mixed response since 2012. We should innovate and approach this issue from a different, India-centric angle so that the percentage of smokers in India sees a drastic reduction in the near future.