Tobacco products will henceforth carry larger pictorial warnings covering 85 per cent of the packaging space as a central notification comes into effect tomorrow notwithstanding a parliamentary panel's recommendation for a drastic reduction in the size of the visual message.
The Health Ministry's notification of September 24, 2015, for implementation of the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Packaging and Labelling) Amendment Rules, 2014, come into force April 1. These prescribe larger pictorial warnings on tobacco products.
The ministry had made a commitment to Rajasthan High Court on March 28 that it will implement the said rules from April 1, 2016.
The Parliamentary Committee on Subordinate Legislation had described as "too harsh" the government's proposal that 85 per cent of the packaging surface carry pictorial warnings and recommended that the message occupy 50 per cent of the space.
The stand had evoked sharp criticism from MPs and health experts.
In its report submitted to Lok Sabha, committee chairman Dilip Gandhi justified the recommendations, saying it was urged that the size of the warnings be increased from the present 40 to 50 per cent.
"The committee is of the view that in order to have a balanced approach, the warning on cigarette packets should be 50 per cent on both sides of the principal display area instead of 85 per cent of the principal display area as it will be too harsh and result in the flooding of illicit cigarettes in the country," the committee said in the report.
Health ministry has also informed Rajasthan High Court that its legislative authority is examining the observations/ recommendations of the Parliamentary Committee on Subordinate Legislation.
A senior official confirmed that all tobacco products manufactured from April 1 onwards will carry larger pictorial health warnings as the rules framed by the ministry have come into effect.
The health ministry told Rajasthan High Court there were
practical difficulties in immediately implementing the rules since distributors, retailers, importers and the manufacturers of cigarettes and other tobacco products require time to clear the stocks bearing the old health warnings and introduce the packaging with new health warnings.
The High Court, which is hearing a petition in this regard, had on July 3, 2015, directed health ministry to enforce the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Packaging and Labelling) Amendment Rules, 2014, with immediate effect.
The ministry told the court it has taken the necessary steps to ensure implementation of the new warnings by distributing CDs of the images as specified in the rules among the manufacturers of tobacco products who had applied for the same online and/or through letters and/or in person.
The images of specified health warnings were uploaded on the official website of the health ministry and a public notice was also issued on February 19, 2016, in all leading national and regional newspapers to facilitate enforcement of the new specified health warnings from April 1.
"It is further submitted that observations/recommendations of the Committee on Subordinate Legislation, 16th Lok Sabha, as contained in its eleventh report submitted to Lok Sabha on March 15, 2016, are under examination of the Legislative Authority in the Ministry," it further said.
Incidentally, India is ranked 136 out of 198 countries according to the international status report on Cigarette Package Health Warnings, 2014.
Nepal has stipulated packaging with 90 per cent space devoted to pictorial warnings, Thailand and Pakistan 85 pc, Sri Lanka 80 pc and, most recently, Myanmar 75 pc.