453 doctors write to PM Modi for 85% warnings on tobacco packs

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Cigarette pack warning
Cigarette pack warning

Signed by the Indian Medical Association, Indian Dental Association, Indian Society of Oncology and Foundation for head and Neck Oncology.

Ten medical associations and 453 doctors have appealed to prime minister Narendra Modi to not withdraw the 85% pictorial warnings on tobacco packets currently in place. The Karnataka High Court last month ordered that pictorial warnings should go back to the earlier 40% of the principal display area of tobacco packets.

“As doctors who see these cases on a daily basis, we are horrified that the Court has used this view to strike down such an effective rule. We are writing to you to prevent this from taking effect. Tobacco is an epidemic, which is killing 10 lac Indians every year. It is the single most preventable cause of death. Amongst 26.7 crore tobacco users in India, one-third will die a premature death. Over 5,500 children in India initiate tobacco every day. By the time they realize the fatal effects of tobacco, these children have becomeaddicts. Tobacco is literally a product that is producing millions of widows, orphans and bereaved parents. While India is celebrating the New Year, lacs of families will be affected by this reversal bringing grief and financial ruin,” reads the letter.

It has been signed by the Indian Medical Association, Indian Dental Association, Indian Society of Oncology and Foundation for head and Neck Oncology.

The percentage of people thinking of quitting after seeing these warnings rose from 38 % to 62.1% for cigarettes, from 29.3% to 54% for bidis and from 34% to 46% for chewing tobacco

Larger pictorial warnings were mandated by a 2014 notification that finally came into effect o April 2016 following an order of the Rajasthan High Court. On December 15, 2017, the Karnataka High Court reversed the decision by quashing these large pictorial warnings. The Karnataka High Court judgment said, “it is unnecessary to have pictorial and
textual warnings suggestive of cancer particularly when the contents of the said warnings are not universally accepted as medically proven.”

The letter to Modi cited the Global Adult Tobacco Survey 2017 findings to prove the success of the warnings. “The percentage of people thinking of quitting after seeing these warnings rose from 38 % to 62.1% for cigarettes, from 29.3% to 54% for bidis and from 34% to 46% for chewing tobacco,” the letter said.

Speaking of this reversal, Dr Pankaj Chaturvedi, Professor Tata Memorial Hospital, Mumbai said, “The photographs on tobacco packets correctly represent the disease caused by tobacco. In fact, many of the patients come to us with even more horrible diseases than shown on the tobacco packets. At Tata Memorial Hospital, we see dozens of such patients every day. Most of these patients die in 3 to 6 months. Needless to say 80 to 90% mouth cancers are related to tobacco use. In India, 1 lac new oral cancers are diagnosed every year and 50% of them die within 12 months of diagnosis.”

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