NEW DELHI: Tobacco growers and retailers from all over India on Wednesday staged a protest here against recent implementation of pictorial warnings covering 85 percent of the packets of all tobacco products.
The protestors, supported by the Akhil Bharatiya Pan Vikreta Sangathan (ABPVS) -- representing 72 lakh traders, retailers and panwallas selling tobacco products -- took out their protest march from the Press Club of India to Parliament House.
They later submitted an appeal to the health ministry and the Prime Minister's Office for a rollback of the directive for large pictorial warning.
"Why the government wants us the small retailers to be surrounded by horrifying pictures all the time? We do not want to be forced to deliver these messages as they are against the interests of millions of fellow members and struggling communities," said Ram Ashrey Mishra, president of Akhil Bharatiya Pan Vikreta Sangathan.
"We urge our leaders to save the poor retailer," Ram Ashrey Mishra added.
Alleging a hidden agenda of several NGOs and international bodies behind expanding the size of pictorial warnings, the protestors sought a detailed investigation to find out real motives behind the new rule on pictorial warnings as, they said, it is being implemented in an undemocratic manner.
"Government has ignored the lives of millions of farmers, factory workers, rural workers, micro retailers and their dependent families," said Misra.
Protestors said the world's top three tobacco consuming countries -- the US, Japan and China -- have zero percent pictorial warning on the packets of tobacco products.
“If USA, considered the epitome of health and democratic rights in the world, has found graphic health warnings inappropriate, what argument does India have to push large, shocking warnings of 85 percent space on tobacco packs?"
"In a country with huge socio-economic role of tobacco, large pictorial warnings are uncalled for, especially when the rules have been framed in an undemocratic manner,” said B.V. Javare Gowda, president of the Federation of All India Farmers Association.
According to the statistics of the Tobacco Institute of India (TII), there are 45.7 million people dependent on the tobacco industry in India.
The 85 percent surface pictorial warning came into effect from April 1, despite a parliamentary committee recommendation that the warnings be brought down to 50 percent of the package surface area, as it said 85 percent will be too harsh on the tobacco industry.