Karnataka HC strikes down 85% pictorial warning rule for tobacco
The Karnataka High Court has struck down 2014 amendment rules that mandated pictorial health warnings to cover 85% of tobacco product packaging space, holding that they violated Constitutional norms. However, it made it clear that 40% pictorial health warning rule, which existed prior to amendment rules, will remain in force.
The HC passed the order on batch of petitions filed by various tobacco manufacturing companies and others from across country, challenging the 85% pictorial warning rule notified by the Union Health Ministry.
The Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Packaging and Labelling) Amendment Rules (COTPA), 2014 came into effect from April 2016. It had increased mandated pictorial health warnings of tobacco product packaging space to 85% from 40%. In May 2016, Supreme Court had transferred all petitions against the 85% rule filed in various high courts to Karnataka High Court and asked it to hear and dispose of them.
The Tobacco Institute of India and others had challenged enforcement of the COTPA which required printing of pictorial health warnings covering 85% of tobacco product packages. The petitioners argued that these rules were impractical and will boost smuggling of imported cigarettes.
Tobacco industry Position
There was no evidence to show smoking causes diseases depicted in the extremely gruesome and unreasonable pictures. Global average size for graphic health warnings (GHWs) was only about 30% of the principal display area. Moreover, top three cigarette consuming countries– the US, China and Japan which together account for 51 per cent of global cigarette consumption–have only text based warnings and not adopted GHWs.
Union Health Ministry does not have any jurisdictional power to make such rules. Even if the health ministry enjoyed power to make such rules, they violated constitutional norms as it was an unreasonable restriction on the right to do business guaranteed under Article 19 (1) (g) of the Constitution.
From perspective of tobacco growers, such rules violated the Right To Equality under Article 14 of the Constitution because there was no connection between images and the warnings. Rules cannot be made to scare people but to issue notifications.