For the first time since its recommendation to put on hold larger pictorial warnings on tobacco packets, Lok Sabha’s Committee on Subordinate Legislations on Wednesday heard civil society representatives who want 85 per cent of the packaging to carry a statutory warning.
The meeting was prompted by a recent order of the Rajasthan High Court asking the government to implement its own decision of October last year to increase the size of tobacco warnings from the current 40 per cent.
Though the two hour meeting saw all five NGO representatives making presentations on the scientific evidence about the harmful effects of tobacco, questions like why they were keen on reducing tobacco use among the general public when many politicians too are addicted to it, left many of them groping for answers.
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The two members of the committee who had been the most vocal supporters of the tobacco lobby — beedi baron, Allahabad MP S C Gupta and Tezpur MP Ram Prasad Sarmah — were not present at the meeting.
Chairman Dilip Gandhi – who was the first to question whether scientific evidence really existed on tobacco-cancer link among Indians – refused to talk about the proceedings of the meeting.
The committee – which had suo motu decided to examine the rules amending the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition and Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Act, 2003 – had in formulating its recommendation for a deferment, received representations from only the tobacco lobby.
No health expert deposed before the committee, which considered representations from the All India Bidi Industry Federation, Federation of Karnataka Virginia Tobacco Growers Association and “various people/organisations involved in the beedi/tobacco/cigarette manufacturing trade” to suggest that larger warnings should not be implemented as per the original decision, from April 1, 2015.
On Wednesday, representatives of the Public Health Foundation of India, International Union Against Lung and Tuberculosis, the high-powered committee of the government of Karnataka on tobacco, Voluntary Health Association of India and of the Indian Cancer Society presented scientific evidence before the panel. The meeting took place almost four months after the government accepted the panel’s recommendation that 85 per cent warnings on tobacco packs be put off till such time that it had examined the matter in depth.