Private member’s bill proposes plain packaging of tobacco products in India

BMJ 2013; 346 doi: (Published 13 February 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f953
  1. Soumyadeep Bhaumik
  1. 1Kolkata

Health advocates, experts in public health, and cancer activists in India are rallying around a draft private member’s bill that seeks to introduce plain packaging of tobacco products across the nation.

Plain packaging of tobacco products, which has been described “as a weapons-grade public health policy that is causing apoplexy in the international industry,”1 was first rolled out in Australia in December last year.2

Exposure to advertising and promotion of tobacco products have been consistently linked to tobacco use, so plain packaging “would definitely contribute to addressing the tobacco epidemic in the Indian context,” Monika Arora, head of health promotion and tobacco control at the Public Health Foundation of India, told the BMJ.

“Expensive tobacco brands with flashy packs are perceived to be associated with a style factor and reflect an aspirational value,” she said, adding that a man of high socioeconomic status had told her, “If I am walking with an expensive cigarette packet, it will create a certain status around me.”

In August 2012 Baijayant Panda, MP for Kendrapara, Odisha, submitted a private member’s bill seeking plain packaging of tobacco products to the Lok Sabha (lower house of parliament). The bill is expected to be discussed during the next parliamentary session of parliament, which starts on 21 February.

The draft bill seeks to amend section 7(4) of Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act 2003 to state that pictorial warnings must cover 60% of the tobacco pack; introduce a new section 7A prescribing specifications for use of the trademark or company name and the colour, size, and shape of the tobacco pack; and also amend section 5 so that “in-pack, on-pack, and point of sale advertising of tobacco products that is currently allowed under provisions (a) and (b) of subsection 3” is repealed.

Arora said, “The arguments of the industry, such as that plain packaging will be ineffective, increase retailer transaction time, and represents an acquisition of intellectual property and violates international trade agreements . . . and that it will increase illegal trade and counterfeiting, have been defended in Australian courts in favour of plain packaging.” She added that she hoped that India would be able to introduce plain packaging against all odds and motivate public opinion to achieve that.

In 2011 the Australia India Institute’s taskforce on tobacco control surveyed 24 stakeholders such as representatives of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, the Department of Customs and Excise, the World Health Organization, public health and cancer experts, community based organisations, non-governmental organisations, experts in trade and industry laws, and senior faculty members from educational institutions. Nearly all the respondents (22) believed that plain packaging had potential benefits for India, and three quarters considered that adopting plain packaging would be feasible.3

An opinion poll conducted by the taskforce at the same time found that 76% of 346 adults, just over half of whom were current or former smokers, considered tobacco packs attractive, 83% thought that the logos, designs, and graphics were a distraction from health warnings on the packets, 84% believed that packaging played a role in promoting tobacco products to children and adolescents, and 87% believed that it had a role of promoting the products to adults.


Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f953