Over 1,000 retailers of tobacco products on Thursday protested outside the Union Health Ministry office here, demanding reduction in the size of the graphical health warnings on cigarette packets.
According to the retailers, protesting under the banner of Akhil Bharatiya Pan Vikreta Sangh representing around 75 lakh retailers across India, the smuggling of tobacco products has increased in the country ever since the graphic pictorial warnings came into existence as smuggled cigarette packets do not carry such warnings.
"Since the introduction of picture warning in India in May 2009 the smuggling has been increasing, as smuggled products are more appealing as they do not have warnings. We have observed that since May 2016, when the size of the health warnings on tobacco products have become larger i.e. 85 per cent on front and back of the pack, we have seen a huge spurt in the availability of smuggled cigarettes. The smuggled cigarettes have no picture warnings and give the impression to consumers that they are safer," said a statement from the Akhil Bharatiya Pan Vikreta Sangh.
The protest comes days after the Karnataka High Court struck down the 2014 amendment rules that mandated pictorial health warnings to cover 85 per cent of tobacco product packages.
Earlier, farmers body Federation of All India Farmers Association had appealed to the government to bring down the pictorial warning from 85 to 40 per cent.
As part of the anti-tobacco policy, on September 22, the Union Health Ministry sent an advisory to the Rajasthan government preventing shops selling tobacco products from dealing in other products such as toffees, candy, chips, biscuits and soft drinks -- products essentially meant for children.
The advisory says if tobacco vendors are found selling these products, their licence might get cancelled.
During the demonstration, the retailers from across the country silently protested outside the Nirman bhawan and later submitted a memorandum to the Union Health Minister J.P Nadda seeking roll back of pictorial warnings and order on preventing sale of non-tobacco products.
"The anti-tobacco policy is being driven by vested interests promoted by various NGOs who are receiving huge sums of money from International players and who are also hand-in-glove with large retailers. The have also been targeting us, small retailers, to stop selling other items, pushing our customers to their large shops, closing out all our sources of earnings," said Ram Ashrey Mishra, President, Akhil Bharatiya Pan Vikreta Sangh.