New, stronger pictorial warnings will finally appear on tobacco products this December but Virginia cigarette packs won’t have the harsher warning that Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad himself had publicised in March 2010. Those will only go on chewable tobacco products.
Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad said, “Of 35 per cent of Indian adults, only 9 per cent are using tobacco and beedi. Whereas 26 per cent are using chewing tobacco. When it comes to cancer, 80 per cent are caused by smokeless tobacco.”
The warnings will be changed every two years, instead of annually as the ministry had earlier decided. So has the government been influenced by the four billion dollar a year tobacco industry?
CNN-IBN has accessed two RTI queries by the Voluntary Health Association of India that reveal there was pressure on the health ministry – even from within the government.
The Law Minister was not reachable for comment. The RTI revealed that even before the Cabinet Meeting last December – an informal meeting was held on November 3 by Finance Minster Pranab Mukherji, Urban Development Minister Jaipal Reddy, then Civil Aviation Minster Praful Patel and the Health minister.
The minutes of the meeting show a decision was made in favour of the tobacco industry – to water down the warnings and delay their rotation.
The bigger issue that these RTIs reveal – is the violation of the FCTC treaty – its a tobacco control convention which India signed back in Sept 2003. Acc to article 5.3 of this treaty, the govt in effect cannot consider any representations nor have interactions with the tobacco industry while forming any tobacco control policy.
When asked do you think the FCTC treaty is being violated, Azad said, “No. We have taken the permission and we went to the cabinet and there were reasons for that.”