New Delhi: India Wednesday made it mandatory for tobacco companies to devote 85 percent space on packets of cigarettes and other tobacco products to warnings against the ill effects of tobacco consumption.
"We have issued a notification to ensure that in the next few months cigarette manufacturers have 85 percent space on packets covered with either pictorial warnings or messages warning against the perils of tobacco use," union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan announced at a function here on the occasion of Global Hand-washing Day.
The guidelines would come into effect from April 1 next year.
As of now, tobacco companies are required to devote only 40 percent of the space on packets to pictorial warnings against tobacco use.
Harsh Vardhan said: "In my career as a doctor, I have seen smokers and tobacco users die in front of me. We should do whatever we can to make people aware."
With this, India will join Thailand where 85 percent of space on packs of cigarette and other tobacco products is covered with warnings. India will now rank first in the list of 198 countries that warn smokers about the hazards of smoking through graphic pictures on cigarette packets.
In Australia, it is 82.5 percent and in Uruguay, it 80 percent.
India's ranking had dropped down to 136 out of 198 among countries, which include pictorial health warnings on cigarette packets.
According to the notification issued: "The specified health warning shall cover at least 85 percent of the principal display area of the package, of which 60 percent shall cover pictorial health warning and 25 percent shall cover textual health warning and shall be positioned on the top edge of the package."
For packages containing smoking forms of tobacco, the pictorial warnings would be of throat cancer and for chewable tobacco products, they would be of mouth cancer.
The notification said the health warnings shall be expressed in English or any Indian language.
"The specified health warning on tobacco product packages shall be rotated every 24 months from the date of commencement of these rules or before the period of rotation as may be specified by the central government notification," it said.
"The size of all components of the specified health warning shall be increased proportionally according to increase in package size to ensure that the specified health warning covers 85 percent of the principal display area."
Bhavna Mukhopadhyay, executive director, Voluntary Health Association of India said: "We would like to congratulate Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Health Minister Harsh Vardhan for raising the bar on this important public health measure, which will go a long way in saving millions of lives."
She said: "This is indeed a landmark decision, in the history of tobacco control, placing India at number one position globally, alongside Thailand."
According to the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) India report 2009-10, of the 34.6 percent current adult tobacco users, 25.9 percent use smokeless form of tobacco (206 million users).
Of this, 30.7 percent are rural and 15.0 percent are urban users. Of the 20.3 percent female tobacco users, 18.4 percent use smokeless forms of tobacco.