Three years. That’s the time cigarette companies want before they can put together any mandatory skull-and-bones logo on their product packs.
The World Health Organisation framework convention on tobacco control (FCTC)—India ratified it in February—doesn’t compulsorily require a pictorial warning on tobacco product packs.
But the health ministry is about to do so. There will be new statutory text as well, reading either ‘Tobacco Kills’ or ‘Tobacco Causes Cancer’.
The FCTC recommends a period of three years for implementation.
Cigarette companies have said they need the three years to get over ‘logistical changes’ required to incorporate the new packaging requirements. This primarily includes changing printing parameters and incorporating a new picture. It also includes re-registration of certain brands which may be under license from abroad (like Four Square) and getting through with all the legal paperwork.
ITC Ltd, the country’s largest producer of cigarettes, said it is a question of practicability. “It would be difficult to go through with the whole process. It is currently not possible for this requirement to cover all tobacco products, so our stand is that guidelines be issued once all products can be covered,” ITC senior vice president K Vaidyanathan said.
Tobacco Institute of India director Sundeep Kumar—he’s also senior vice president (corporate affairs) at India’s second largest cigarette company Godfrey Phillips—felt the switch over to new graphics for cigarette packs require new outlays and investments. These would take time to line up.
“For example, our Four Square brand is licensed by Philip Morris. If we have to make changes to the Four Square pack, it will need to be vetted by them, which will follow legal work and re-registration,” Kumar said.
The health ministry is understood to be in consultation with the printing industry to draw up guidelines so that pictorial symbol guidelines may be issued to cover all tobacco products.
Singapore recently handed out pictures of a smoker’s lungs and a cancer patient, among others, telling cigarette makers that they will need to put these on their packs.