One can only wish that the pictorial warnings that will soon be flashed on tobacco products will alter those estimates positively. Expect to see cancer-affected lungs and a cancer-affected heart on packs of bidis and cigarettes and a picture of a scorpion on other tobacco chewing products occupying 40% of the front panel display area.
The logistics might take some time though. It will take at least a month for the products with the warnings to hit the market. We are focusing on the manufacturing to begin with as these are excise-controlled products and there is a transitory stock in the market, says BK Prasad, Joint secretary, National Tobacco Control Cell, Ministry of Health & Family Welfare.
Godfrey Phillips India is ready and all its packs manufactured post May 31 will carry the graphic health warnings, says Nita Kapoor, Executive Vice-President, Marketing and Corporate Affairs, GPI. However, she chooses not to speculate about the impact the graphic health warnings will have on the product sales given that the move is first of its kind in the history of the Indian cigarette industry.
The situation is much the same at ITC that has decided to shut down some of its production lines for the time being. The cylinders required for such a printing process is available with few manufacturers in India and abroad, and it will take some time for such imported equipment and other packaging material to connect with our processes, says Kurush N Grant, Chief Executive, Tobacco Division, ITC Limited. Supply is unlikely to be affected though.
Grant is concerned that bonafide domestic manufacturers will be put to a significant disadvantage in relation to the increasing quantum of illegal cigarettes in India, both produced locally in violation of excise laws or those smuggled into here.
The impact is only a matter of speculation for the time being. Smokers like 32-year-old Ganesh Solanki doesnt think the pictorial warnings will affect them at all. If I am right, heart diseases claim more lives in India than any other disease. So, does it not make more sense to carry warnings on cheese, butter and all those things that are clogging the arteries of the people That is precisely what Dr S Hukku of Apollo Hospitals fears. No warnings, pictorial or otherwise, can affect the educated class because they quite understand the risks associated with smoking. Yes, it will definitely sensitise the illiterate.
Possibly those who are too young to understand the implications of smoking, he says, asserting that more than legislation, it will be its strict enforcement that will bring a difference. Cancer is amongst the top three major killers in India and 60% of it is triggered by tobacco. In the last decade a lot of women and youngsters have been addicted to smoking and soon the problem will assume epidemic proportions in India, warns Dr Hukku. Risk factor apart, it is the burden of the disease that is worrisome for most.
Probably a reason why corporate houses like Dow Chemicals are taking initiatives to help their employees to quit tobacco! The companys Health Director, Dr Ashish Mishra is focusing on the companys site in Lote, Maharashtra where 50% of the employees were found to chew tobacco. In the last one year through counselling and nicotine replacement therapy, at 47%, the quit rate is progressing, says Mishra.
The death clock of tobacco strikes every six seconds globally. Seema Gupta of Voluntary Health Association of India says, Evidence from countries having pictorial health warnings have revealed that comprehensive warnings on tobacco packages are rated effective by tobacco users and contribute to reduction in tobacco use. The pictorial warnings thus should be gory enough to stop the smokers from the act.
Isolated cases apart, now we just need to wait and see the story the pictures tell. As and when they appear that is!