In what would bring Indian cigarette companies on a par with their global peers, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has proposed to make it mandatory for companies to specify the amount of nicotine and tar on cigarette packs.
FSSAI officials told Business Standard the authority would soon issue a notification in this regard.
Citing the absence of adequate research facilities to verify the amount of nicotine and tar in cigarettes, companies in India have resisted the move for some time.
The Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act 2003, which regulates trade, as well as advertisement of cigarettes and other tobacco-related products, has a provision for declaration of cigarette contents. However, owing to the lack of research laboratories, the government hadn't notified the rule. "This anomaly will now be corrected," said FSSAI officials. Six tobacco research laboratories were being set up in Chandigarh, Gujarat, Noida, Ghaziabad, Chennai and Kolkata at a cost of Rs 57 crore, the officials said, adding the World Health Organization would help establish these.
The Tobacco Institute of India, an industry body, did not respond to a mail seeking comment.
Healthy industry officials said earlier, manufacturers had resisted the move, as they felt when consumers saw the amount of nicotine and tar in cigarettes, business would be hit.
While nicotine is addictive, tar can cause cancer.
Health experts say the amount of nicotine and tar in Indian cigarettes is above the global permissible levels of one mg and 10 mg a cigarette, respectively. Indian cigarettes contain about 13-14 mg of tar and 1.3-1.8 mg of nicotine.
Experts add besides putting in place a system to determine the amount of nicotine and tar in cigarettes, FSSAI would also have to determine the permissible levels of these substances, something not yet mandated by law. "Once that is done, it would go a long way in streamlining the process," says Monika Arora, head (health promotion and tobacco control), Public Health Foundation of India.
Indian manufacturers have graphic, as well as text warnings such as smoking kills' and tobacco causes cancer' on cigarette packs. Arora said the move to disclose the contents of a cigarette was the next step towards weaning smokers off the habit.
At 274.9 million, India had the second-highest number of tobacco users after China (300.8 million), according to a study released last year by The Lancet, a medical journal. The number of smokers in India stands at 138 million. Analysts say this number is growing rapidly.
Health experts have also pitched for other steps to check the growing tobacco consumption in the country. These include indicating the levels of carbon monoxide emitted when a cigarette is smoked.