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India may be grilled at WHO meet on failure to implement larger pictorial warnings on tobacco packs

NEW DELHI: India may have to face tough questions on tobacco control at the upcoming south-east Asia regional committee meeting of the World Health Organization next week.

Assessment of tobacco control measures taken by various countries in the region is among the top agendas to be taken up for detailed discussion during the meeting, sources said.

The meeting, which will take place in Dili in Timor Leste, will be attended by health ministers from 11 countries of the south-east Asia region including Indian health minister J P Nadda.

“Accelerating efforts to protect people against tobacco is one of the key topics for discussion at the meet. It is most likely that India will have to explain its position in the context of delay in implementation of the larger pictorial warnings on packs of tobacco products,” said an official, who is going to attend the WHO meeting.

The health ministry had earlier set a deadline of April 1 to increase the size of pictorial warnings on packs of tobacco products. A notification to this effect was also issued allowing time to manufacturers to prepare for the implementation. However, following interim recommendations by a Parliamentary Committee on Subordinate Legislation examining the proposed amendments to the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act, 2008, the ministry had put the final notification for the implementation on hold. The committee had sought more time to do stakeholder consultation and submit its final report to the health ministry.

Though, the ministry has maintained all through that it is determined to take stringent measures in order to control consumption of tobacco products, the delay in implementing larger pictorial warnings triggered criticism against the government.

Despite pressure from the civil society as well as the international community, the government has also failed to indicate a deadline for the committee to submit its recommendation or to say how long the ministry will wait before issuing its final order.

Though, the committee recently held consultations with civil society as well as industry players, no resolution has been arrived at so far. Meanwhile, the agriculture ministry has also given its consent to the proposal for larger pictorial warnings.

Sources said now India may again have to explain its move to satisfy queries and concerns from the international community at Dili.

Apart from tobacco, the meeting will also witness discussions on post-2015 Global Sustainable Development Goals, and expanding effective services with stronger health workforce.

The Regional Committee, the highest policy making body of WHO in the region, will also deliberate on anti-microbial resistance, an issue which needs urgent attention and action.

Eliminating neglected tropical diseases like kala-azar, leprosy and yaws; adapting and implementing the End Tuberculosis strategy; the way forward for preventing and controlling cancer; and sustainable universal health coverage will be other areas of focus at the meeting.

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