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Modi for bigger pictorial warnings on tobacco products

Bengaluru/New Delhi/Panaji: (IANS): Prime Minister Narendra Modi has favoured bigger pictorial warning on tobacco products and the health ministry now intends to cover 85 per cent of the display area of beedi, cigarette and chewable tobacco packets, sources said on Saturday.

Modi has endorsed larger pictorial warnings on tobacco products and asked Health Minister J P Nadda to appoint a committee to look into the matter, sources added.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said at a press conference in Bengaluru that the government intends to discourage tobacco use.

But Jaitley distanced the Bharatiya Janata Party from its MP Dilip Gandhi’s comments that there was no evidence linking tobacco with cancer. “In individual capacity, people can say anything. The government takes measured decisions.”

Gandhi is a member of the parliamentary committee on subordinate legislation on tobacco.

“A multi-pronged approach will be taken to discourage the use of tobacco. Health Minister J P Nadda is here, he will decide,” Jaitley said.

The health ministry heeded a recommendation of the committee when it decided to keep in abeyance an October 2014 notification that made it mandatory for all tobacco packets to carry a pictorial warning, covering 85 per cent of its principal display area.

Meanwhile, sources in the health ministry said the government intended to go ahead with 85 per cent coverage as far as pictorial warnings were concerned.

The report submitted by the committee on subordinate legislation is an interim one and the ministry has been requested to keep the decision to implement the 85 per cent warnings for the time being till the final report is out, the sources said.

They said that even while deposing before the committee as late as February, the ministry had favoured 85 per cent coverage.

Union Health Minister J P Nadda told the media that his ministry was stable on its stand against tobacco.

“Our stand is well-known. The BJP, health ministry, and I maintain that tobacco consumption is not healthy and should be avoided,” he said.

Questions have also been raised over the propriety of an MP with significant interest in the beedi industry being in the parliamentary panel.

Shyam Charan Gupta, a BJP MP from Allahabad, is a member of the panel and has openly said that there was no evidence to show that tobacco causes cancer and that 85 per cent pictorial warnings would affect the beedi industry adversely.

In Panaji, National Organisation for Tobacco Eradication (NOTE) general secretary and noted oncologist Dr Shekhar Salkar, who is also president of the Goa Cricket Association, advocated that the issue of conflict of interest in parliamentary committees should be dealt on the lines of the Supreme Court’s decision in former Indian cricket board president N Srinivasan’s case.

NOTE has in the past dragged several celebrities like Shahrukh Khan and Amitabh Bachchan to court over ‘promotion’ of tobacco use in public, and manages to ensure that celebrities who are caught smoking in public places pay fines for the violation.

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