India - cigarettes and bidis manufacturers halt production seek clarification on pictorial health warnings..

December 4, 2010 - India's largest cigarette firm ITC, maker of India Kings, Gold Flake and Navy Cut, has stopped production at all its manufacturing units in view of uncertainty over pictorial warnings to be carried on tobacco products starting this month. The company said there was no clarity on types of warnings to be carried on the packages. ITC has stopped production at all five units located across India since yesterday. Confirming the development an ITC spokesperson said, "Units (for making cigarettes) are shut because of the ambiguity in pictorial warnings to be carried from December 1 onwards."

The implementation of new pictorial health warnings became effective on December 1, 2010..

Tobacco giant ITC today plunged by 3.5 per cent in the early trade on BSE after the company said it has halted production of cigarettes at all its manufacturing units in view of uncertainty over pictorial warnings. (ITC scrip down 3.5% on news of production halt, Press Trust of India / Mumbai, Business Standard, 12/3/2010.)

According to industry sources, even Godfrey Phillips India (GPI), the country's second largest cigarette maker after ITC that owns brands like Four Square, Red and White and Cavanders, has stopped production.

Companies making cigarettes and bidis have been forced to close down production due to the uncertainty regarding the warning," Tobacco Institute of India director Udayan Lall said.

He said the companies had written a letter to the ministry seeking clarity on the the kind of pictorial warnings to be carried on packs, but no clarity has emerged from the government on the same. "We have not received any response so far," Lall added.

The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare had notified in May this year that all tobacco product packages in the country must carry pictorial health warnings depicting a cancer-stricken mouth etc., from December 1, 2010.

Cigarette manufacturers want the duration of each warning to be fixed for at least 2-3 years. Sources said the health ministry would now review the situation on the behest of leading cigarette manufacturers.

India is the world's second-largest producer and consumer of tobacco behind China, according to the American Cancer Society and the World Lung Foundation. An estimated 241 million people in India use tobacco in some form. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine published in February 2008 estimated that one in 10 deaths in India from 2010 onwards would be smoking-related. Tobacco use kills a million Indians every year, according to the Cancer Foundation of India.

In October 2008, India widened an existing, but poorly enforced ban on smoking in public places and prohibited the sale of tobacco products near schools and hospitals -- but the regulations are still flouted in many places.

References: ITC shuts cigarette plants due to uncertainty in warnings, Press Trust of India / New Delhi, Business Standard, 12/2/2010; Tobacco majors halt production, BS Reporter / Kolkata/ New Delhi, Business Standard, 12/3/2010; India cigarette firms stop production over health warnings, Agence France-Presse (AFP), 12/3/2010; No smoking kills Rs 100 cr revenue, Ashish Sinha, Indian Express, 12/4/2010.

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