Tobacco products Current Affairs
The Supreme Court has stayed Karnataka High Court order reducing size of pictorial warnings on packages of tobacco products to 40% of the package space from earlier 85%. The apex court took decision saying that health of citizen has primacy and emphasised on importance of public health and harmful effects of tobacco products.
The Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) in 2014 had amended Cigarette and other Tobacco Products (Packaging and Labelling) Rules prescribing mandatory 85% statutory warnings space on both sides of tobacco packaging telling consumers that cigarette smoking and tobacco chewing were harmful to health. These rules were framed under Cigarette and Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Act, 2003.
Karnataka High Court judgment
In December 2017, Karnataka High Court judgment had quashed MoHFW 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.
It had held that rules framed by MoHW in 2014 was violation of the Article 77 (Conduct of Business of Government of India) and Transaction of Business (ToB) rules framed under it as subject of tobacco control and legislation was not attached to one department or Ministry. Moreover, these rules are also contrary to Article 19(1)(g) (right to practise any profession,or to carry on any occupation, trade or business).
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.