SC rights a K'taka HC wrong

SC rights a K'taka HC wrong

It was not unexpected that the Supreme Court would put on hold the Karnataka High Court's ruling which had struck down a central government order of 2014 mandating large pictorial warnings on cigarette and bidi packets. It was the high court ruling that was surprising. It held that the order that increased the size of the health warning on a tobacco packet's surface was unconstitutional because it violated fundamental rights like the right to equality and the right to trade. These rights should be circumscribed by public interest and other rights like the right to life, which are threatened by the use of tobacco. There was no bar on trading in tobacco and the graphic warnings only pointed out the danger posed to people's health by its consumption. This is supported by much research worldwide. That is why the high court's order was considered a setback to the cause of public health.  

It is ironic that the Karnataka High Court struck down an order which actually was implemented on the orders of another high court, the Rajasthan High  Court, after the government had dilly-dallied on it. Health activists, doctors and other public-spirited people and groups expressed serious concern over the Karnataka High Court's order and wrote to the prime minister protesting against it. The Supreme Court, while putting the high court's order on hold, also clearly said that the "health of a citizen has primacy and he or she should be aware of that which can affect or deteriorate the condition of health". The state has the responsibility to inform and educate citizens on health hazards and to take steps to promote public health and to ensure that the dangers to it are minimised. The increase in size of the pictorial warning from 40% to 85% of the area of a cigarette packet was a step in that direction.  

The world over, it has been seen that bigger pictorial warnings on tobacco packets have helped to reduce its consumption. In India, it is too early to assess the impact. But surveys have shown that 62% of cigarette smokers and 54% of bidi smokers have thought of quitting because of the warning on the packets. It has also been seen that the warnings have a good deterrent effect. They are more effective in preventing people from starting to smoke than in weaning smokers away from the addiction. About a lakh people die every year in the country from diseases caused by the use of tobacco. The economic cost of the diseases is over Rs 100,000 crore. The campaign against tobacco should actually be stepped up in the country.

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