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After a two-year battle, a ground-breaking development for public health has seen graphic health warnings on tobacco packaging in India quadruple in size. Harrowing images of the health consequences of tobacco use must now be displayed across 85 percent of the surface area of all tobacco packets -- a measure proven to help users quit and prevent others taking up the habit.

The move came after the High Court of Rajasthan ruled in favour of the directive, and against the recommendations of the Parliamentary Committee on Subordinate Legislation (CoSL). The CoSL had concluded that the new packaging would negatively impact the economy and livelihoods and increase illicit trade. It recommended reducing warning sizes to 50 percent, covering one side of the pack only, and exempting bidis. The High Court of Rajasthan found that CoSL’s recommendations were not in the interests of public health.

“Larger and stronger pack warnings are more effective for communicating the harms of tobacco use, prompting tobacco users to quit and discouraging initiation of new users,” said Dr Rana J Singh, Deputy Regional Director for The Union, South-East Asia. “85% pack warnings on both sides of all tobacco products will raise risk awareness and educate people en masse, including populations with low literacy rates. And this development does not cost the Government anything.”

The Union’s India team has provided pivotal support for this legislation since it was first announced in 2014 by Dr Harsh Vardhan who was then India’s Minister of Health. The measure faced strong opposition and was significantly delayed after a parliamentary committee controversially stated that no studies from India link tobacco use to cancer.

In July 2015 the Union’s technical experts were invited to present evidence to parliament on pack warnings, potential adverse impacts on livelihoods, illicit trade and social development goals. The team also submitted information to the Prime Minister countering the recommendations of the CoSL and worked with partners under the Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use to spearhead campaigns supporting the 85 percent directive, involving academics, medics, and civil society to target policymakers and media.

“The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare deserves congratulation for this strong policy win in the lead up to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control’s 7th Conference of Parties which will be held in India later this year,” said Dr Ehsan Latif, Director of The Union’s Department of Tobacco Control. “This sends a strong message to the global community about India’s commitment to reducing tobacco use and the sickness and poverty it causes.”

Graphic health warnings are particularly effective in countries with low literacy rates, or multiple languages, and can be a vital source of education. It has also been found that smokers underestimate the health risks associated with smoking – graphic health warnings can help de-bunk any myths. India currently has around 275 million tobacco users.

Find out more about graphic health warnings.


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The Tobacco Control Department is based at The Union Europe Office, Edinburgh, registered charity no. SC039880
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