SC leash on tobacco firms

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday restrained tobacco manufacturers from tinkering with the law that mandates pictorial health warnings covering 85 per cent of the area of the packet, and agreed to examine a Karnataka High Court judgment quashing the rule.

A bench of Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra and Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul passed the directions while declining to grant a blanket stay on the high court order passed on December 15, saying it was yet to go through the judgment.

“Having heard learned counsel for the parties, we think it appropriate that the matter should be listed on Monday, the 8th of January, 2018. Meanwhile, the high court shall upload the judgment. The registry of this court is directed to communicate the same to the registry of the high court of Karnataka to do the needful,” the Supreme Court said in the order.

“Needless to emphasise, we have not passed any interim order today as we do not have the benefit of reading the judgment of the high court and that is no ground on the part of the respondents (tobacco manufacturers, etc) to advance a claim in equity,” the apex court added.

The legal jargon “claim in equity” refers to any advantage sought to be claimed by either party in a dispute.

The top court passed the order while dealing with an urgent application moved by Umesh Narain, an advocate and cancer patient, through counsel Aishwaraya Bhatti, seeking an interim stay on the high court order.

However, as the high court order has not been uploaded so far because of the winter vacation, the Supreme Court said it could not grant an interim stay until it went through the judgment.

The Centre had on October 15, 2014, notified the Cigarettes and other Tobacco Products (Packaging and Labelling) Amendment Rules, 2014, mandating the printing of the specified heath warning on 85 per cent of the principal display area of the tobacco product’s packet.

The Tobacco Institute of India and a host of tobacco manufacturers had challenged the rules in various high courts, following which the Supreme Court on May 4, 2016, clubbed all the cases and directed Karnataka High Court to deal with the issue.

On December 15, the high court quashed the rule mandating 85 per cent warning coverage and held that it was enough if the pictoral warning was spread over 20 per cent of the principal display area.

Challenging the high court order, the petitioner submitted that the implementation of the regulations mandating the pictoral warning to cover 85 per cent of the principal display area was the culmination of an extremely long, cumbersome and excruciating fight by public heath activists – people whose lives and families had been ruined by tobacco – against the mighty tobacco industry.

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