Hearing on pictorial warning on tobacco products postponed

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Mumbai, Jan 8 (UNI) The much awaited implementation of the pictorial warnings law for all tobacco products has been postponed for the fifth time.

The case was to be reviewed by the Himachal Pradesh High Court on November 27, 2007, however, the hearing has now been postponed to March 17, 2008.

The main reason cited by the tobacco manufacturing companies is that the pictorial depictions in the warning are very severe and repulsive as compared to other countries in the world. They have appealed to the court to make some modifications to make the pictures ''more acceptable'' to the public. The Union Health Ministry is seeking four months time for the implementation of the law.

The explicit pictorial warning with pictures depicting cancer patients and ill babies was to occupy 50 per cent of the packaging area with an aim to create awareness amongst the illiterate population ignorant to the hazards of tobacco usage.

Speaking to reporters today, Healis Sekhsaria Institute for Public Health Director Dr P C Gupta said, ''The primary objective of pictorial warnings is to enable the uninitiated and the illiterate to make an informed choice about consuming a tobacco product. While the tobacco manufacturers falsely lament on the plight of workers employed by them, there is no consideration for the thousands of lives that are lost daily due to tobacco.'' ''All manufacturers provide ample information about the use of their products. Tobacco industry is the only exception. Since the industry does not provide information about the dangerous effects of tobacco willingly, they need to be forced legally to provide pictorial warnings on their products,'' Dr Gupta added.

The Health Ministry has been under severe pressure from beedi producing states, especially Andhra Pradesh, to put off the pictorial warnings. There are fears that it would affect beedi sales in the country, which in turn could impact the livelihood of those engaged in beedi production. It is estimated that around one million people work in the beedi industry.

Meanwhile, supporters of pictorial warnings including Healis Sekhsaria Institute for Public Health and Advocacy Forum for Tobacco Control (AFTC) are actively demonstrating their support by means of different activities across cities which they believe would ultimately lead to better awareness regarding health hazards of tobacco and reduction in tobacco usage.

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