After repeated delay of two years, displaying of statutory pictorial and health warnings on tobacco products finally came into effect yesterday in accordance with the assurance given by the government to the Supreme Court last month.
Coinciding with this year's 'World No Tobacco Day', this regulation comes after the government dithered on the issue, (See: Government dithers on implementing health warnings on tobacco products), with the NGO 'Health for Millions' filing a suit in the Supreme Court, which forced the government to implement the health warnings on all tobacco products. (See: Finally, tobacco products to carry pictorial health warnings from 31 May)
For anti-tobacco activists, this is a much-awaited victory as they feel that pictorial signs on tobacco products is worth a thousand words and shows the harm smoking can do, which will make people take notice and convince them to kick the deadly habit.
Pictorial warnings of cancer affected lungs and that of a scorpion on tobacco products are intended to reinforce in smokers the harmful effects of tobacco. With India having so many languages, this image breaks all linguistic barriers.
These images however, have been watered down compared to the skull-and-crossbones that the NGO had sought to be mandatorily displayed on all tobacco products.
The different pictorial health warnings, would be displayed in rotation every few months to constantly remind smokers as what smoking could do to their health.
Although the government has assured the court that 40 per cent of the front of all tobacco products would carry the statutory pictorial and health warnings on tobacco products from 31 May, it is still not clear as to which pictorial images the tobacco companies will be displaying.
The union ministry of health has sent circulars to the excise department of the new ruling and has asked it not to allow tobacco products without the pictorial warnings to enter the market.
Manufacturers and sellers will be fined Rs5,000 along with imprisonment for two years for the first offence and repeat offenders will be fined Rs10,000 and imprisonment up to five years.
Shopkeepers, who sell tobacco products without the health warning, will be fined Rs1,000 and face an imprisonment of one year, which will be raised to a Rs3,000- fine and two years imprisonment for repeat offences.
But according to the tobacco manufacturers, it will take them at least a month to clear out the old packaging inventory.
The government has said that the manufacturer as well as the seller will be prosecuted if any tobacco product is manufactured after 31 May without the pictorial health warnings.
The health department will coordinate with the police, excise and customs officials in all the states, who will ultimately enforce the new law.