The World Health Organisation has said the economic burden attributable to tobacco-related diseases is a staggering Rs. 1,04,500 crore annually in the country and has pitched for large-size warnings on packs to control tobacco consumption in a cost-effective manner.
“The economic burden attributable to tobacco-related diseases is a staggering Rs. 1,04,500 crore annually in the country, while human cost nearly a million deaths,” WHO representative in New Delhi Henk Bekedam said in a statement.
Calling for large and prominent health warnings on the packs of tobacco products, he said past experiences have shown that this is “a cost-effective means of increasing public awareness about the health effects of tobacco use and in reducing tobacco consumption”.
Besides, he termed the ongoing debate on reducing the size of warnings on tobacco products, especially on bidis and smokeless tobacco as “worrisome.”
India implemented Article 11 of WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) a few years back, but is still not FCTC-compliant for this provision as the tobacco pack warnings occupy only 40 per cent of the principal display area only on one side of the pack – that makes up 20 per cent of the total display area of the pack.
The Supreme Court is hearing a bunch of petitions on ordering large size warnings on the packs.
In terms of the health warnings on tobacco products packages, the country fares very badly with a ranking of 136 out of 198 countries in the international status report on Cigarette Package Health Warnings 2014.
Countries ranked after 143 do not display pictorial health warnings at all.
He warned that “any reduction in the size of pack warnings will be a great setback for public health in the region, as neighboring countries, including Nepal (90 per cent), Thailand (85 per cent), Pakistan (85 per cent), Sri Lanka (80 per cent) and most recently Myanmar (75 per cent) have overcome similar challenges and notified large pictorial warnings”.
As per the Global Adult Tobacco Survey-India (GATS 2010) covering the age group 15 and above, 71 per cent of cigarette smokers notice health warnings on packages and 38 per cent think of quitting because of the warning label.
In case of bidi smokers, as many as 62 per cent of notice health warnings on the packs and 29 per cent think of quitting due to the warning.
When it comes to the consumers of smokeless tobaccos, 63 per cent of them notice health warnings on the package and 34 per cent think of quitting due to the warning label, he said.