Following the Indian Health Ministry’s call for the government to enforce its new cigarette package guidelines expanding the worded 20% of the package warning to full-color graphic images of the dangers of smoking to 85% of the packet. India’s largest cigarette manufacturers have defiantly shuttered their factories.
Fight between health ministry and cigarette industry
The sheer amount of money that India’s $10 billion cigarette industry has available to it has allowed to enjoy a fair bit of support from certain areas of the Indian government but the Health Ministry is calling on other ministries to really crack-down on company’s not following its new guidelines.
“The implementation of the rules requires strong support,” K.C. Samria, a joint secretary in the health ministry, wrote to government departments on Monday. The move makes sense given that its been estimated by BMJ Global Health that cigarettes use in India is responsible for as many as a million deaths each year.
India’s biggest cigarette maker ITC Ltd, part-owned by British American Tobacco, has so far refused to comply with the order owing to the fact that it believes it contradicts a parliamentary decision to cover 50% of the cigarette pack.
In addition to forcing Indian manufacturers to cover 85% of the pack in warnings, the ruling from the Health Ministry also applies to imported cigarettes as well as cigarettes offered to people in India duty-free shops regardless of what country they are flying.
Indian companies shutter factories in protest
Both ITC and its largest competitor, Godfrey Phillips India Ltd, which is a partner of U.S.-based Philip Morris International, shuttered their production facilities last Friday in protest over the new guidelines.
While Godfrey announced that it has begun work to come into compliance with the order, ITC, has full-stop said that it has no intention to comply with the Health Ministry’s new guidelines.
An unnamed official at the health ministry has said that its guidelines are simple and it is has no intention caving to manufacturers and their protests.
“The ministry has handled industry pressure well, it is a commendable step,” said Amit Yadav, director, southeast Asia region at Framework Convention Alliance for Tobacco Control according to the Financial Times. Clearly the cigarette manufacturers disagree with ITC being the loudest.
The Tobacco Institute of India (ITT) also criticized the health ministry.
>TII said in a statement: “Owing to the ambiguity on the policy related to the revision of graphic health warnings on tobacco product packs, the members are unable to continue manufacturing cigarettes from April 1 2016.”
Indian tobacco companies seem to just be stubborn in the region as Pakistan, Nepal and Thailand already have graphic warnings roughly in line with India’s new guidelines according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
The WHO said last month that “large and prominent health warnings have shown to be a cost-effective means of increasing public awareness of the health effects of tobacco use and in reducing tobacco consumption.”
What’s fairly ironic is that India is one of the world’s largest market for illegal cigarettes sold “under the counter” and the new guidelines will certainly not affect those manufacturers.