The debate over pictorial warnings on tobacco prod ucts has brought to light several issues. They reflect sheer ignorance of elected representatives, conflicts of interest within the government and most importantly tobacco control that encompasses issues way beyond health. In Karnataka , 30% of the adult population, estimated at 1.5 crore is addicted to some form of tobacco. About 20% of it is in chewing form, 8% in beedi and 4% in cigarette. According to a study conducted in Bengaluru , 15.1% of PU (pre-university) students have consumed tobacco at least once or more during their lifetime. Teens is an age group where addiction can be easily introduced.
The Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (COTPA) Act 2003 Section 6 prohibits sale within 100 yards of educational institutions. Section 5 of COTPA prohibits all forms of direct and indirect advertisements at points of sale as they target youngsters into nicotine addiction. The recently-introduced Juvenile Justice Act amendment has taken a serious view of imprisonment of people found guilty of selling these products to minors.These steps are crucial considering the health impact on future generations. Section 7 of COTPA mandates pictorial warning on all tobacco products to warn consumers.Earlier, tobacco products in India needed to display pictorial warnings of harms like cancer covering 40% of the product area. It meant that 60% of the same side and 100% of the next side was open to marketing the product -a wrong philosophy considering the impact of tobacco on health.
The environmental impact of tobacco too is significant. The latest WHO-GATS data, whose study was conducted in 2010, estimates that 44.3% of adults at home and 37.2% of adults in public places are exposed to secondhand smoke. According to a recent study from Karnataka, it takes 8 kg of wood to cure 1 kg of tobacco. Thus, approximately , 86,000 tonne of tobacco in the state would require around 690,840 tonne of fuel wood per year. This does not include illegal cuttings and purchase of forest wood from private vendors.Could these environmental impacts be ignored?
Currently, 15 states have banned chewing tobacco under directions of Govt of India. Taxes on beedi are at 0% which is subsidising death for the poor. Karnataka is one of the largest growers of FCV (flue-cured virginia) tobacco. Alternatives such as herbs with strong export potentials for farmers should be explored.Consumer awareness on the lethal nature of these products, awareness about the existing laws on tobacco by vendors, sellers and citizens and a balanced enforcement holds the key to a brighter tomorrow.