Lung Foundation urges large graphic warnings on tobacco packs

FDA TobaccoNEW DELHI: World Lung Foundation and the doctor who was with Sunita Tomar in her final hours has appealed to the government to implement large graphic health warnings on tobacco packs without delay, saying it will be a fitting tribute to the brave woman, who died of oral cancer.

After being diagnosed with tobacco-related oral cancer, Sunita had agreed to tell her story in a Public Service Announcement (PSA) to raise awareness about the harms of tobacco and to help prevent others from suffering her fate.

World Lung Foundation’s team in India came to know about Sunita as it supported the Union Ministry of Health in the filming of the PSA and the development and launch of the campaign.

The government recently decided to defer implementation of a notification for increasing the size of pictorial health warning on cigarette packets and various other tobacco products.

Large graphic warnings have proved highly effective in warning people about the health hazards of tobacco, irrespective of the audience’s level of literacy.

The graphic warnings also transcend language barriers in a country like India.

A study published last year in the Journal of Public Health – based on research in India and several other low and middle-income countries – found that of all the countries surveyed, children in India exhibited the lowest levels of awareness of health warnings on tobacco packs.

“We were saddened to hear of the death of Sunita Tomar. Like many women, Sunita began to chew tobacco in the form of an oral dentifrice, ignorant of the lethal effects of a supposed dental hygiene product. Within a few years, she developed oral cancer. Hers is not an uncommon story.

“Sunita was exceptional in her desire to warn others about the harms of tobacco, to provide them with the information and knowledge she didn’t have,” Nandita Murukulta, Country Director, India and Director of Global Research and Evaluation, World Lung Foundation said.

Vaishakhi Mallik, Program Manager, India worked closely with Sunita during the filming of the PSA and recalled, “Sunita was a true fighter. During the filming she was frequently tired and uncomfortable, but she overcame her physical and emotional pain to speak with dignity and clarity to the media, never flinching in the face of all that scrutiny. She wanted to fight for a tobacco free world.”

Dr Pankaj Chaturvedi of Tata Memorial Hospital, who was Sunita’s surgeon and was with her in her final days said she wanted to see government commitment towards tobacco control.

“To her that meant implementing strong tobacco control measures, including large graphic warnings. It looked like the government had heeded that call, but duplicitous tobacco industry tactics and misinformation, which stand in clear contrast to Sunita’s honesty and bravery, is delaying progress.

“Rapid implementation of these warnings, rather than delays motivated by the tobacco industry’s desire to keep its profits high, would be a fitting tribute to this brave woman,” he said.

Union Health Ministry had issued a notification last year making it mandatory for cigarette companies to devote at least 85 per cent of the surface areas of cigarette packets on both sides to graphically and literally represent the statutory warning.

Of the 85 per cent space, 60 per cent had to be used for pictorial warning and the rest 25 per cent had to contain warning messages in English, Hindi or any other Indian language.

According to The Tobacco Atlas, tobacco is the cause of 14.3 per cent of male deaths and 4.7 per cent of women deaths in India, killing over 9,81,100 Indian citizens every year.-PTI

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