Up in smoke: a clear sign on World No Tobacco Day

Written by fe Bureau | Updated: May 31 2009, 07:11am hrs
For those who 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 products occupying 40% of the front panel display area there is news. As per the notification by ministry of health & family welfare, May 31 was the date for Cigarette and Other Tobacco Products Packaging and Labelling Rules 2008 to come into force, which is also the World No Tobacco Day.

According to industry estimates, cigarette market is 96 billion sticks-a-year in India. The implementation will take at least a month for the products with warnings to hit the market. We are focussing on the manufacturing to begin with because these are excise controlled products and there is a transitory stock in the market, said BK Prasad, joint secretary, National Tobacco Control Cell, ministry of health and family welfare. The shelf-life of zarda etc is less and their new packaging should come into the market in a fortnight. The revised cigarette packaging will take time, he added.

The manufacturers echo the sentiment. With an approximate market share of 75%, ITC currently leads in the market share for the branded cigarette industry in India. Other major players are Godfrey Philips India (GPI), GTC Industries, VST Industries, Dalmia Consumer Care and Kothari Products. All our packs manufactured post today will carry the graphic health warnings, says Nita Kapoor, executive vice-president, marketing and corporate affairs, GPI, which has cigarette brands such as Red & White, Maxus, Cavendars Magna and North Pole, Four Square and Sona brand of bidis.

The situation is similar at ITC. Given the large number of brands and SKUs (stock keeping units) that ITC offers in the market, we have an enormous task at hand to change the packs to reflect the revised health warnings, says Kurush N Grant, chief executive, tobacco division, ITC. Its portfolio of brands includes Insignia, India Kings, Classic, Gold Flake, Silk Cut, Navy Cut, Scissors, Capstan, Berkeley, Bristol and Flake. We will have to shut down some of our lines and commence production in a phased manner as soon as we receive the equipment and other material required for each SKU, he further adds.

However, the supply will remain unaffected. ITC has increased its inventories in the last few days to ensure against this temporary disruption.

The pictorial warnings are expected to raise public awareness against the adverse affects of tobacco consumption. Tobacco is a major risk factor for heart attacks and strokes claiming almost eight lakh lives in India each year. Tobacco consumers run up to three times higher risk of contracting cardio-vascular diseases.

In India, almost 10% of the adult population suffers from coronary artery diseases and the economic burden is huge. Almost six crore of them are in their prime productive age, says ZS Meherwal, director, Cardio-vascular surgery, Escorts Heart Institute and Research Centre.