India: PMO backs health ministry on tobacco pictorial warning

5 April 2016
NEW DELHI: With the Prime Minister’s Office extending its full support, the health ministry has refused to blink even as tobacco product manufacturers continue to mount pressure on the government, seeking rollback of larger pictorial warnings covering 85 per cent of the packaging space.

Following the implementation of the health ministry order from April 1, many major cigarette makers, including ITC, Godfrey Phillips and VST Industries, decided to shut cigarette manufacturing from Friday alleging ambiguity on the graphic health warning on tobacco product packs.

However, senior officials in the health ministry maintained it is “firm on anti-tobacco stand” as it is a matter of public interest. “Where is the ambiguity? The matter is very clear and what has been done is done,” an official, privy to developments, told TOI.

The companies which are members of the Tobacco Institute of India, who account for more than 98 per cent of the country’s domestic sales of duty paid cigarettes, claimed an estimated loss of Rs 350 crore per day in production turnover for the industry.

Besides revenue loss, the industry’s move has also raised the spectre of job losses. Health experts are keeping their fingers crossed given the pressure from the cigarette manufacturers. “The tobacco industry is purposely trying to arm-twist the government into disregarding the law and court orders,” said Voluntary Health Association of India.