Cabinet to decide on tobacco industry request on pic warning

Union Cabinet is likely to take a decision on a request from the tobacco industry to increase the duration of display of a set of pictorial warning in cigarette and other tobacco products.

New Delhi: Union Cabinet is likely to take a decision on a request from the tobacco industry to increase the duration of display of a set of pictorial warning in cigarette and other tobacco products.

The Union Health Ministry approached the Cabinet for a direction in this regard to seek clarity about the demands being made by other ministries who are facing the brunt of
decrease in tobacco production in the country, official sources said today.

There are two existing pictorial warnings like scorpion and damaged lungs while a new and stricter one -- a cancer stricken mouth, was to be depicted from December one. Such
warnings are to be rotated every year.

Tobacco companies, which were under an impression that the timeline for `mouth cancer` warning would get pushed back, had made representations to the Health Ministry requesting for increasing the number of years for implementing particular pictograms from existing one year to two to three years at least.

They reasoned out that existing cigarette stock lying with the retailers could not be withdrawn and re-manufactured and this may account to huge losses to them.

The manufacturers requested that they be first allowed to sell the previous stock and that if the new warning must come into effect then its duration should be increased to two
or three years so that companies do not need to print new packets every year.

"While the Health Ministry advocates lessening use of tobacco, the request of tobacco industry is being actively considered," a sources said.

The state exchequer earns Rs 27,000 crore revenue every year from sale of cigarettes and bidis.

Tobacco majors ITC and Godfrey Phillips India (GPI) have stopped production of cigarettes citing lack of clarity on the issue. An ITC spokesperson had said yesterday that its "units (for making cigarettes) are shut because of the ambiguity in pictorial warnings to be carried from December 1 onwards."

Similarly, production has been stalled since December 1 onwards at GPI`s two units in India. The development may cost the state exchequer Rs 100 crore per day.

Meanwhile, terming the issue of pictoral warnings on cigarette packs as a "complicated one", Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad said the Government will take a decision on the issue keeping in mind the interest of all the stakeholders.

He said with cigarette companies such as ITC stopping production over the "controversial issue" of changing pictures in the warnings every year, the Government will lose a revenue of Rs 100 crore per day.

"All these things including revenue, interest of retailers and then we have to think about the several lakh workers in the bidi sector and about its impact on tobacco growers. This is a very wide issue and we don`t have to panic and we have to keep all this things in mind before taking a decision," he told reporters outside Parliament.

He noted that on the one hand the Government has to be proactive to ban cigarettes but on the other side, it cannot "close eyes on the interests of lakhs of workers and farmers
and retailers."

Pointing out that the issue was "complicated", Azad said it has not been resolved in the last year and a half as the producers say that one year is too short a period to change
pictures in the warnings.

"Producers say that one year is too short a period as the produce takes at least six months to reach retailers in far-flung areas and that period is already lost. It is not the
producer who will be affected, it is the retailers who will suffer," he added.

The Health Minister said due to stoppage of production by these companies, lakhs of workers in the bidi sector, tobacco-producing farmers and the revenue of the Government
will be affected.

According to him, government earns Rs 30-35,000 crore every year from the tobacco industry in terms of revenue.

Asked if the Government was going slow on the issue, Azad said, "We are not slow on this but we will have to take a considered decision. We are still getting reactions from the
field and we will do something about it."


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