SC hearing on tobacco warning today

Apex court to hear petition asking govt to stop sale of loose cigarettes

SC hearing on tobacco warning today

The Supreme Court on Monday is likely to hear a petition, which asks the government to stop selling of loose cigarettes and publish bigger health warnings on tobacco packs that have been put off indefinitely by the health ministry following the recommendations of a Parliamentary committee.

“The effective implementation of the pack warnings rules is of specific relevance to our country. A large proportion of tobacco users in India are illiterate and poor. The only form of warning which will warn and deter the illiterate are pictorial warnings,” says the petition, filed by advocate Prashant Bhushan on behalf of Health for Millions, a non governmental organisation.

The health ministry's decision to indefinitely put off its previous plan of publishing bigger warnings, covering 85 per cent of the principal display area, has triggered a debate on the pros and cons of the move.

Had the health ministry not intervened, every cigarette, bidi and chewing tobacco packets would have to carry the bigger warning images and text from April 1. The Lok Sabha Committee on Subordinate Legislation, which is reviewing the anti-tobacco rules and heard the tobacco industry, asked the health ministry not to implement its past notification on larger warnings, till the committee finalises its report, after hearing to other stakeholders and doctors.

But controversial comments made by the committee chairman BJP MP Dilip Gandhi as well as by two other MPs including Bidi baron Shyama Charan Gupta (BJP) quereed the pitch with doctors and public health campaigners accusing them of siding with the tobacco industry.

“The government of India despite admitting to high prevalence of tobacco use especially amongst children and youth and almost 8-9 lakhs deaths every year due to tobacco use, has failed to take necessary steps to effectively implement the pictorial warnings on packs,” says the petition.

Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, however, contended that the government's decision on tobacco will not be decided by individual opinion of certain law makers.
Besides pictorial warning, the petition also accuses the government not to prohibit sale of loose cigarettes, as recommended by an expert panel, commissioned by the health ministry. “The government is delaying framing of rules or guidelines to prevent sale of loose cigarettes and other tobacco products,” it says.

The health ministry, under the pressure of the tobacco industry and at the cost of the fundamental right of health of the people of India, has tried time and again to delay the bringing into force of pictorial warnings. It is now trying to defeat the very purpose of the pictorial warnings by permitting sale of tobacco products in single sticks or loose and outside its packing, the petition adds.

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