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Cigarette makers divided over nicotine content notice on packs

Nithya Subramanian
Anil Sasi

New Delhi , Nov. 25

THE Health Ministry is working on a set of rules for the tobacco industry that will specify the content and packaging rules for tobacco products. Under this head, the issue of nicotine presence in cigarettes and beedis has become a contentious one, with the industry divided on it.

While the Ministry is in favour of a blanket ban on smoking without specifying the ingredients or the maximum permissible limits of various substances, a section of the cigarette and beedi manufacturers are of the opinion that there should be a distinction between those products containing nicotine and those without the addictive ingredient.

According to sources in the Health Ministry, "We are not in favour of differentiating between the two, but feel that smoking should be prohibited. However, we have received divergent views from the industry and a decision will be taken after consultations are complete."

"The new breed of nicotine-free beedis and cigarettes are, in no way, better than normal cigarettes. While nicotine is only an addictive, the reduction of nicotine levels alone does nothing to lower levels of tar, carcinogenic substances, carbon monoxide and other harmful substances found in them," a tobacco industry player said.

The industry also pointed out that there is no monitoring of the unorganised sector, which mainly consists of small beedi manufacturers. An official from a cigarette company said that the organised sector of the tobacco industry is already bearing the brunt of the excise duty regime, while the unorganised portion of the industry has been let off the hook.

"In light of the unequal treatment between the two sectors, the Government needs to formulate uniform regulations when it comes to treating cigarettes with tobacco content, whether they are nicotine-free or not," the official said.

Internationally too, for the purpose of quality control, the levels of harmful compounds such as nicotine and tar in products of tobacco burning are controlled. For instance, cigarettes termed as `light' have about 7-11 mg/cigarette of tar while `superlights' contain less than 7 mg/cigarette. In the US too, there is an ongoing debate on the health safety claims of manufacturers hawking "safer cigarettes".

A committee comprising Government officials, representatives from the industry and consumer groups had been set up to frame rules to The Cigarettes & Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Act, 2003.

Besides this, the committee is also in the process of finalising packaging norms for tobacco products to incorporate warning messages and skull-and-bones signs.

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