NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court said on Monday that cigarette and other tobacco product manufacturers must continue to display pictorial and statutory health warnings on 85% of the product pack area, while staying a Karnataka high court judgment reducing it to 40%.
"Keeping in view the objects and reasons of the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Act, 2003 and the measures taken by the State, we think it appropriate to direct stay of operation of the judgement and order passed by the HC of Karnataka," said a bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A M Kahnwilkar and D Y Chandrachud.
Tobacco product manufacturers led by senior advocate, made desperate attempts to thwart a stay on HC judgment and even offered to increase the pictorial warning size to 50% of the packet area. But the three-judge bench remained unimpressed while accepting attorney general K K Venugopal's submission that pictorial warnings conveyed the hazardous effects of tobacco products even to the unlettered.
The bench said: "Though a very structural submission has been advanced by the counsel for respondents that it will affect their business, we have remained unimpressed by the said argument as we are inclined to think that health of a citizen has primacy and he or she should be aware of what can affect or deteriorate the condition of health. We may hasten to add that deterioration may be a milder word and, therefore, in all possibility the expression "destruction of health" is apposite." It posted the matter for final hearing on March 12.
Venugopal was backed by senior advocates Anand Grover and Rupinder Singh Suri, who appeared for NGO 'Health for Millions' and cited a global study which lauded the large pictorial warning on tobacco product packets serving as a dissuasion for many. Sibal argued that no one can dispute that tobacco is a health hazard. "But, if the government does not ban its trade, then those trading in tobacco products have a fundamental right to do so under Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution.
Unreasonable restrictions cannot be imposed to affect the trade," he said arguing the 40% pictorial warning should continue till March 31, when the government would take a new policy decision.
The 2008 tobacco product labelling rules mandated that health warning "shall occupy at least 40% of the principal display area of the front panel of the pack and shall be positioned parallel to the top edge of the package".