The health ministry has cleared setting up of one apex state–of–the–art tobacco research lab (which will the first of its kind in South Asia) and five other labs to test the amount of nicotine, tar and carbon monoxide in cigarettes, bidis and cigars.
The ministry’s expenditure finance committee (EFC) approved the Rs 57 crore proposal last week.
While the apex research lab will come up in PGI (Chandigarh), the other five testing labs will be based in Gujarat (to cater to western India), either West Bengal or Assam (eastern region), Ghaziabad or Chandigarh (north), Andhra Pradesh and Chennai (for south India).
As against the permissible cut–off mark of 1 mg of nicotine per cigarette, the content level in filter cigarettes was found to be 1.3–1.8 mg in filter cigarettes and 1.4–1.8 mg in non–filter cigarettes.
“The labs will be ready by December 2009. We are not really creating new labs but upgrading and building capacity in existing labs so that they are in place as fast as possible,” a ministry official said.
He added, “Testing cigarette content is a statutory requirement but since we don’t have a single such lab, we have been unable to investigate whether the information given by tobacco companies on the level of tar and nicotine content in their products is true.”
These labs will contain a smoke machine, that will mimic humans puffing cigarettes during which it will collect the smoke and analyse its carcinogenic content. Its puff per minute will tell scientists the volume of carcinogenic substances being inhaled and exhaled.
Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Atlanta is helping India on how to conduct the tests and maintain the quality of testing.
“The government will finally be able to verify the ingredients in tobacco products and the amount of harmful substances in them. The labs will start with testing tar and nicotine content followed by other substances like carbon monoxide,” an official said.
The Cigarettes and other Tobacco Products (Packaging and Labelling) Act makes it mandatory for all tobacco manufacturers to mention the percentage of nicotine and tar in their products.
“Unfortunately, we have failed to press the manufacturers into declaring their tar and nicotine content because we don’t have labs to check the information. Once the testing labs are in place, we will press for the industry to follow the rule,” the official said.
Of the more than 4,000 chemicals that have been identified in tobacco smoke, at least 250 are known to be harmful, and 50 of these are known to cause cancer.
Source: Times of India