Bengaluru, May 5: Farmers and micro retailers from across Karnataka today staged a march here demanding rollback of a rule mandating 85 per cent pictorial warnings on tobacco products, calling it a "harsh policy" that does not balance the interests of stakeholders.
Leaders of Federation of All India Farmer Associations, representing tobacco growers and Karnataka State Beedi Cigarette Traders Association, alleged the policy was being implemented in an undemocratic manner, abruptly without balancing the interests of millions of farmers, factory workers, rural workers and micro retailers.
"We are unable to understand as to why the government wants us, the small retailers to be surrounded by horrifying pictures all the time.
"We do not want to be forced to deliver these messages as they are against the interests of millions of fellow members and struggling communities," Karnataka State Beedi Cigarette Trade Association President B N Murali Krishna said addressing the protesters.
He said if the USA which was considered the epitome of health and democratic rights had found graphic health warnings undemocratic, "then what argument does India have to push large, shocking warnings of 85 per cent on tobacco packs?"
FAIFA Joint Secretary Vikram Raj Urs said farmers were facing severe challenges with water crisis, slower demand, expensive credit and ongoing disturbances in the tobacco industry which will cause a big financial loss to them.
According to the Karnataka State Beedi Cigarette Traders Association, 45.7 million people were dependent on tobacco industry in the country and no organisation or individual representing their interest was consulted when the rules were framed in 2014.
Also, it said that cigarettes are the most smuggled item in the country after gold but they do not have graphic warnings.
The implementation of larger graphic health warnings was neither practical, nor was it in the interest of either the consumer, the retailer, the farmer or the government, the association contended, appealing to the union government to roll back the new policy.