New Delhi, 04 March,Now tobacco consumers will find a quit line number on the tobacco pack itself – to help users quit the addiction. Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, in its notification dated April 3, 2018 has announced that tobacco packs will have new pack warnings covering 85% of pack area, with pictorial images, text messages and the quit line number. The new warnings will come into effect from September 1, 2018. The text messages will be TOBACCO CAUSES CANCER and TOBACCO CAUSES PAINFUL DEATH. A QUIT LINE NO. 1800-11-2356 will also be printed on the pack.
Government has introduced a Quit Line looking at the results of Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) report of 2017 in which indicated that 62% of cigarette smokers, 54% of bidi smokers and 46% of smokeless tobacco users thought of quitting because of pictorial warning label on tobacco products.
68-year old Umesh Narain, an advocate by profession, and resident of Allahabad, suffering from oral cancer, responding to the introduction of the Quit Line Number on Tobacco Packs said “Had this been introduced earlier then it would have helped me to quit tobacco”. He added that many people want to quit tobacco but sometimes due to laziness to find out quit line numbers or for want of knowledge or feeling shy to ask others or due to other reasons, they do not take positive action to quit.
Advocate Narain said “now every time a person buys tobacco it will have gory pictures showing impact of tobacco use on health, which will certainly force the tobacco consumer to think of quitting and with the quit line number on the pack itself, the chances of the consumer actually taking help increases.
According to Dr. Pankaj Chaturvedi, a cancer surgeon and Professor in Tata Memorial Hospital, Mumbai, about twelve lakh deaths occur every year in India due to tobacco use. Almost 40% of the Non Communicable Diseases (NCD) including cancers, cardio-vascular diseases and lung disorders are directly attributable to tobacco use. Tobacco is responsible for nearly 50% of all cancers in India and 90% of mouth cancers. He is also a member of the committee that finalized the recent pack warnings.
The graphic health warnings on tobacco packages is the most effective means to create awareness about the serious and adverse health consequences of tobacco usage especially among the youth, children and illiterate persons. The GATS study provided evidence that large graphic warning labels are effective in increasing knowledge about risks associated with tobacco use. They also reduce the chances of tobacco initiation among youth and help the resolve of quitters not to re-start.
The new warnings were field tested/pre-tested for their efficacy with dummy packs amongst the target groups of users (both smoking and smokeless) and non-users and the participants in the focus group during the survey stated that printing of the quit line number (1800112356) on the packs was a novel idea which will motivate smokers to seek help for quitting tobacco. They were of the view that many smokers/consumers of smokeless tobacco want to quit, but are not aware about where and how to seek help. For such people, the quit line number would be very useful. Some participants said that professional counsellors are very expensive and those who cannot afford their fee, can now make use of the service by calling up the quit line number. Another aspect pointed out by the participants was that seeking help from the quit line number offers the caller a sense of anonymity, which many of the smokers would want. Participants also felt that if a smoker would call the quit line number and get counselling on how to quit tobacco, she/he would share positive feedback with peers/friends/colleagues who can then also call the quit line number for quitting tobacco.
Sanjay Seth, Trustee of Sambandh Health Foundation (SHF) an organisation active in tobacco control, said that this step highlights the Government’s holistic approach in reducing the prevalence in tobacco usage. India in now among the top three countries in the world in effectiveness of pack warnings and adding quit-line number is an innovation which will be of great help to millions of tobacco users. He added that most users think of quitting but are unable to access help. This will bridge that gap.
The Government of India on the recommendation of the Committee of Experts on 15th October 2014 notified the new set of pictorial health warnings, covering 85% of the principal display area (front and back) of all tobacco product packages, whose implementation was delayed. A Parliamentary Committee on Subordinate Legislation had asked for a delay and later recommended a reduction in size of the warnings. Tobacco Industry had strongly challenged the warnings before several High Courts. The implementation of 85% warnings finally happened on the direction of the Rajasthan High Court and was later endorsed by the Hon`ble Supreme Court.
The current pictorial warnings on both sides of cigarettes, bidis and all forms of chewing tobacco products came into effect from 1st April 2016 and have been in effect for almost two years. GATS showed that these very very effective.
The Supreme Court, on 4th May 2016 while directing implementation of 85% warnings on tobacco packs, transferred all cases challenging the 85 % pack warnings to the High Court of Karnataka. The Hon`ble Karnataka High Court vide judgment order dated 15.12.2017, had quashed the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Packaging and Labelling) Amendment Rules, 2014, that mandated printing of health warnings covering 85% of principal display area of the pack and restored 2008 health warnings that requires printing of warning covering 40% of one side of the principal display area of the pack.
On 8th January 2018 in the appeals filed by the Union of India and Civil Society directed stay of operation of the judgment and order passed by the High Court of Karnataka and observed: “Though a very structural submission has been advanced by the learned counsel for the respondents that it will affect their business, we have remained unimpressed by the said proponement as we are inclined to think that health of a citizen has primacy and he or she should be aware of that which can affect or deteriorate the condition of health. We may hasten to add that deterioration may be a milder word and, therefore, in all possibility the expression “destruction of health” is apposite.”