The Supreme Court on Wednesday reminded tobacco makers of their "duty to society" and to carry pictorial warnings spread over 85% of both sides of their packaging as mandated under the government's amended 2014 rules, staying a Karnataka High Court order that had prevented implementation of these rules.
"You owe a duty to society," a bench of justices Pinaki Chandra Ghosh and Amitava Roy said while staying the Dharwad bench order.
The earlier 2008 rules required pictorial warnings on just 40% of the packaging on one side.
The new rules mandate pictorial warnings that the industry has said are "gruesome", "gory" and "extremely repulsive", intended to "shock and terrorise the user" rather than being factual and intended to warn the consumer.
The industry has said that the images as well as the textual warnings prescribed are false and misleading. It has said there is no evidence to prove that the images on the pictorial health warnings are of tobaccorelated diseases or tobacco consumers.
However, nongovernmental organisation Health for Millions, which has been demanding its implementation, urged the court to impose a stay on the high court order.
The Cigarettes and other Tobacco Products (packing and Labelling) Amendment Rules,2014, made under the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution), Act of 2003, were notified to take effect from April 1, 2016.
These were immediately challenged in different high courts. A plea was later made to transfer all these petitions pending in different high courts to the top court which could then deal with the legality of these rules. Instead the top court transt transferred all these pending cases to the Karnataka High Court for a decision.
The top court requested the Karnataka High Court chief justice to ensure that the case was disposed of within eight weeks and despite resistance from the tobacco companies asked them to implement the rules in the meantime. To facilitate this, the top court bench stayed a Dharwad bench order which had prevented these rules from coming into effect for now.
The Dharwad stay "shall not be given effect to till further orders of the Karnataka High Court", it said. Earlier, appearing for the Tobacco Institute of India, senior advocate Arvind P Datar, argued that these rules were "unreasonable", "arbitrary", "unforceable" and violative of the 2003 Act. Datar argued that no consultations were made with the industry before enacting rules which made it mandatory to carry such "gruesome" warnings.
The earlier rule, covering 40% of the packaging only on one side, cannot be overruled without any consultation as it has a huge socioeconomic impact on many sections, Datar argued. "The rules were ultra vires of the Act... as it does not empower the central government to prescribe the size of the warnings.
The Act merely requires the warnings to be legible, prominent and conspicuous as to the size and colour which were met by the unamended 2008 rules. This increase is completely arbitrary, unreasonable and is not based on any parameter," Datar said.
The industry association claimed that the new warnings would prevent tobacco makers from appropriately displaying their trademarks and would cause the market to be flooded with counterfeit products. It said that the tobacco crop directly and indirectly supports 38 million people engaged in production, processing, marketing and exports, including six million farmers.
Source: Economic Times