Reporting from New Delhi — Under threat from cigarette manufacturers, the Indian government has deferred the use of new, pictorial warnings on cigarette packs by a year. The new warnings, part of India's anti-smoking effort, were to be implemented on Dec. 1 after earlier delays in March.
The delay came a week after two of India's largest cigarette makers halted production citing a "lack of clarity" on pictorial warnings. Activists saw the production stoppage as a pressure tactic and claimed the companies had produced "excessively in the past six months and may have shut for maintenance work."
Public health activists were unhappy with the government's order and said they believed it was taken under tremendous pressure from cigarette manufacturers. They "have made the government do what was beneficial to them and have made the government sidestep the issue of public health," said Bhavna Mukhopadhyay, executive director of the Voluntary Health Assn. of India.
The move has public health advocates concerned. The recently released Global Adult Tobacco Survey of India 2010 showed that pictorial warnings have a positive effect on reducing consumption. The survey found that nearly a third of tobacco users considered quitting because of the warnings, which feature a lung and a scorpion symbol with a health message. Some "5,500 young people are initiated into cigarette smoking every day," Mukhopadhyay said. "Most of our population is illiterate and can't read warnings. Pictorial warnings are the most cost-effective and impactful way of warning these people."