SC for larger warnings on cigarette packs

Court stays Karnataka High Court order reducing pictorial warning size from 85% to 40%

The Supreme Court on Monday stayed a Karnataka High Court order reducing the size of pictorial warnings on packages of tobacco products to 40% of the package space.

The court foregrounded the health of citizens over the concerns of the tobacco industry and favoured a government regulation requiring packets of tobacco products to sport pictorial warnings covering 85% of their packaging space.

A Bench led by Chief Justice Dipak Misra said it is mild to say that tobacco consumption and use causes “deterioration of health”. The apex court said “destruction of health” is a more appropriate phrase to explain the harm caused by tobacco.

The court was hearing several petitions against the High Court decision, including one filed by NGO Health for Millions Trust.

The Division Bench of the High Court had struck down the amendment to the Cigarettes and other Tobacco Products (Packaging and Labelling Rules) 2008, as amended in 2014.

‘Better impact’

Attorney-General K.K. Venugopal and advocate R. Balasubramanium, both appearing for the Centre, challenged the High Court decision to reduce the size of pictorial warnings, saying in a country where illiteracy is rampant, the more prominent the warning, the better impact it would have on the minds of the people.

Life sans health is not worth living and the chewing of tobacco or smoking of cigarettes or bidis, etc., causes irretrievable hazard to health.

It is the obligation of the State to make the people aware as regards the injurious nature of these indulgences.

Apart from the victim of the habit, the family suffers. The whole society faces peril, Mr. Venugopal argued.

The High Court decision has left tobacco manufacturers with a free hand to sell “obnoxious and poisonous products in the market with no warning or 40% warning on the packages”, Mr, Venugopal submitted.

‘Ban tobacco’

In their counter, senior advocate Kapil Sibal for the tobacco industry said effects of tobacco were horrible. “So, let the government ban tobacco products,” he submitted.

Instead of a ban, the government is using “absolutely horrifying” pictures with no named source or scientific value on the tobacco packets.

The use of such pictures on 85% packaging space is a violation of their fundamental right to do business under Article 19 (1) (g), Mr. Sibal submitted.

He submitted that a parliamentary standing committee has already recommended pictorial warnings on 50% space and this should be adopted till March 31, 2018, when the issue would be re-examined.

The next date of hearing is scheduled on March 12, 2018.

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