New Delhi - Tobacco companies in India will have to stamp pictorial and text health warnings across 85% of the surface of cigarette packs, the health ministry said on Wednesday, joining nations such as Thailand and Australia with stringent marketing rules.
Between 800 000 and 900 000 Indians die every year of diseases related to tobacco use, the government said in 2010. That number could reach 1.5 million by 2020 if users cannot drop the habit, the International Tobacco Control Project estimates.
Besides illustrations showing the negative effects of smoking, packets will be required to carry the word "WARNING" on a red background and the phrase "Tobacco causes mouth cancer" on a black background, the health ministry said in a notification.
"(This) will tell each and everyone, including potential users of cigarettes, that tobacco means nothing else except death," Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said.
The new rules take effect from April 1 next year and mandate printed warnings on the front and back of the packages, the ministry said.
They require 60% of the pack's surface to carry pictorial warnings, with written warnings on another 25%, up from a total figure of 20% now.
A recent report showed India ranked 136th on a list of 198 countries that use pictures on packs to warn off smokers.
Thailand, Australia and Uruguay all require that 80 percent or more of the surface of a cigarette packet be covered with warnings, the report said. Australia has adopted plain packaging to prohibit display of a tobacco company's logos.