Tobacco firms suffer setback


STRIKING A BLOW: Indian cigarette manufacturers may have to comply with health
warnings rule on packets after the supreme court reversed a lower court decision
STRIKING A BLOW: Indian cigarette manufacturers may have to comply with health warnings rule on packets after the supreme court reversed a lower court decision

INDIAN COURT UPHOLDS PACKAGING WARNING

The Indian supreme court on Monday (8) put on hold a lower court’s order that quashed federal rules mandating larger health warnings on to­bacco packages, in a setback for the country’s $11 billion (£8.13bn) tobacco industry.  

The high court of southern Karnataka state last month struck down federal government rules re­quiring 85 per cent of a tobacco pack’s surface to be covered in health warnings, up from 20 per cent earlier. The rules had been in force since 2016.  

The supreme court, which heard petitions brought by tobacco-control activists, stayed the Karnataka court’s order on Monday (8), citing the need to protect the health of citizens.  

“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 supreme court said in its 13-page order.  

“Deterioration may be a milder word and, there­fore, in all possibility the expression ‘destruction of health’ is apposite.”  

The court’s decision comes as a relief for health advocates and federal health ministry who say big­ger health warnings deter tobacco consumption. More than 900,000 people die each year in India due to tobacco-related illnesses, according to gov­ernment estimates.  

India’s tobacco packaging rules are among the world’s most stringent. A government survey last year found that 62 per cent of cigarette smokers thought about quitting because of such warning labels on the packets.  

The court’s decision is a blow to cigarette makers such as India’s ITC Ltd and Philip Morris Interna­tional Inc’s Indian partner, Godfrey Phillips India Ltd, whose representatives call the rules extreme.  

In protest at the health warning measures, the industry briefly shut its factories across the country in 2016 and filed dozens of legal cases.  

On Monday, both federal health ministry offi­cials and tobacco industry executives were in at­tendance inside a packed courtroom to hear the proceedings which lasted for about 40 minutes.  

The three judges took time to look over examples of health warning pictures used on cigarette packs.  

Kapil Sibal, a lawyer who argued for the industry, urged the court to reduce the size of tobacco pack warnings. At one point, he cited the absence of health warnings on a glass of whisky to argue against such displays on tobacco products.  

The attorney general of India, KK Venugopal, defended the government’s stringent rules, saying they were “one of the most progressive” steps to protect the health of people.  

The next hearing of the case will be heard on March 12. (Reuters)