New Delhi: The rule requiring that packets of tobacco products carry larger pictorial health warning will increase smuggling into India of foreign cigarettes that come without such a warning, said a farmers' grouping on Friday.
"It is a black day for us. By implementing the 85 percent pictorial warning rule, the government is actually trying to murder the tobacco farmers," Murali Babu, general secretary of the Federation of All India Farmers' Associations (FAIFA), told IANS.
The rule increasing the display area of the pictorial health warning on packs of cigarettes and other tobacco products from 40 percent to 85 percent came into effect on Friday. That will be in addition to textual health warning.
"The government has finally done what we have been requesting them not to do keeping in mind the lives of lakhs of tobacco growers in the country," said Babu, a tobacco farmer from Andhra Pradesh.
The government should not be shocked if a few more tobacco farmers commit suicides, following further revenue loss due to the implementation of the new rule, said Babu.
FAIFA represents tobacco growers in the country.
The government must now focus on checking the smuggling of cigarettes into India, which has risen due to higher taxes and harsher health warning rule, said Babu.
The sale of tobacco grown in India has been going down for the same reason, he said.
"It's clear that the government does not want to think about the farmers and wants to encourage smuggling," said Babu.
The implementation of the 85 percent pictorial warning display rule comes despite a parliamentary committee determining that the requirement is too harsh. The committee instead recommended pictorial warning be confined to 50 percent area of the pack's cover, which the government rejected.
There are over two lakh tobacco growers in the country and the tobacco industry provides further employment to lakhs of others, according to Tobacco Institute of India (TII), which represents the cigarette industry.
The tobacco grown in India includes FCV (Flue-Cured Virginia) which is used in making cigarettes.
Exports are estimated to earn more than Rs 6,000 crore in foreign exchange with FCV tobacco alone contributing Rs 4,000 crore, said the TII.
The market in India for foreign cigarettes, which come without any pictorial warnings on their packets, has been expanding without the government being able to crack down on such contraband products, said the TII.