As the government on Friday enforced the much debated 85 percent pictorial warnings on packets of all tobacco products, manufacturer across the country decided to halt production, citing ambiguity in the government action.
The move is likely to result in a daily loss of Rs. 350 crore to the government, apart from increase in illegal cigarette and tobacco products in the market.
The government decision comes even after recommendations of a parliamentary committee advocating pictorial warnings on tobacco and cigarette packets be brought down to 50 percent from 85 percent, saying the latter will be too harsh on the tobacco industry.
Various health experts welcomed the move, citing that the health ministry could not take a better step than this to curb the tobacco - related deaths in the country, which currently stand at over 10 lakh, costing the government over Rs. 1, 04, 500 crore - a whopping 1. 16 per cent of India's gross domestic product.
"We now look to the health minister to continue his crusade against tobacco and implement the 85 percent pictorial health warnings on both sides of tobacco packages, as planned, to save the Indian youth and children from tobacco addiction, " Harit Chaturvedi chairman, Max Institute Of Oncology, and director, surgical oncology, at Max Healthcare, told IANS.
M. C Misra, director of All India Institute of Medical Science (AIIMS), said: "This is one of the best initiative. Eighty percent of the cancer patients are linked with tobacco and tobacco chewing. Though not every consumer will stop taking tobacco but this initiative will have a impact on a large chunk. "
With the implementation of new warnings, India will now move to the second position from 136th in the list of countries with such warnings on tobacco packs, including neighbouring Nepal (99 percent), Sri Lanka (80), Thailand (85) and Bangladesh (50).
India will host the Conference of the Parties of the WHO tobacco - control treaty in November 2016.
Bhavna Mukhopadhyay, chief executive, Voluntary Health Association of India, said: "This landmark decision of the government to implement stronger and larger pictorial warnings on both sides will save millions of Indians who die due to tobacco - related diseases every year. "
Till now tobacco packets available in the market had statutory pictorial and textual health warnings that covered only 40 percent of the package area and that too on one side only.
The government move comes despite repeated requests and several memorandums submitted to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Health Minister J. P. Nadda, following economic losses to tobacco farmers and those dependent on the tobacco industry for livelihood.
The announcement to shut production was made by the Tobacco Institute of India (TII), which comprises manufacturers accounting for more than 98 percent of the country's domestic sales of duty paid cigarettes in India.
Though no official from the health ministry was available for comment, M. C. Misra, Director, AIIMS said: "It does not matter even if the loss is Rs. 3, 500 crore. Nothing is more important than the lives of the people. During such initiatives, there are advantages and disadvantages; so we need to be ready for everything. "
Calling it a black day for all tobacco farmers, Murali Babu, general secretary of the Federation of All India Farmers' Associations (FAIFA), a tobacco farmers association, told IANS: "The government is trying to murder the Indian tobacco farmers by going ahead with such initiatives. "
Both the Tobacco Institute of India and the FAIFA have said that 85 per cent warnings will promote illegal cigarette trade, and adversely affect the livelihood of 45. 7 million people dependent on tobacco farming, including farmers, labourers, workers, traders and others.
According to them, the government should align the tobacco pictorial warning policy with the other tobacco producing countries such as the US, China and Japan, which do not have any pictorial warnings.
The US, China and Japan, accounting for 51 percent of global cigarette consumption, have only text - based warnings (about 30 percent in size), they said.