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Scorpion to scare smokers

New Delhi, Feb. 26: All packages of tobacco products sold in India will need to display images of a scorpion or human lungs and a message that tobacco kills, a group of ministers (GoM) decided today.

At a meeting called to finalise pictorial warnings, the GoM also decided that the warnings would have to cover 40 per cent of space on packets of all tobacco products, health ministry sources told The Telegraph.

The health ministry hopes to issue a notification for pictorial warnings within a week, and manufacturers would be expected to begin printing them three months after the notification, the sources said.

“This is a step forward,” the sources added. “We’re hoping that all tobacco products in India will have these new warnings before World Tobacco Day (May 31) this year.”

The exact verbal message on the tobacco products has not been finalised yet but it could be “Tobacco Kills”, the sources said. It would need to be printed in the languages of the region where the product is sold, they said.

But senior public health experts said the GoM decision to use images of a scorpion or lungs was a diluted version of a previous pledge to show skull-and-bones on tobacco products.

“What does the scorpion have to do with tobacco? A scorpion on a tobacco packet is more likely to puzzle typical users than warn them about the dangers of tobacco,” said Prakash Gupta, director of the Healis Sekhsaria Institute of Public Health in Mumbai, who has been campaigning for warnings on tobacco packets.

“A scorpion or even an X-ray of the lungs is unlikely to convey the risks of tobacco to most people,” Gupta said. “Pictures of oral cancer could have been used as an alternative to the skull-and-bones, he said.

Health ministry sources said the scorpion and lungs would be used for a period of 12 months after which “harsher images” could be considered.

The GoM has also decided that the labour ministry should initiate a process to determine alternative employment possibilities for workers in the tobacco sector.

Sections of the tobacco industry have claimed that a drop in tobacco use as a consequence of pictorial warnings would lead to massive unemployment among tobacco workers.

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