The Supreme Court on Monday stayed the Karnataka High Court order that quashed the government regulation mandating the pictorial health warning to cover 85% of the cigarette packs and tobacco products packaging space. A bench led by Chief Justice Dipak Misra stayed the HC order that not only had directed reduction of the pictorial warning on tobacco products to 40%, but also said that the alarming images of persons suffering from throat and mouth cancer should go. Several petitions, including one filed by Health for Millions Trust, an NGO, had challenged the HC’s December 15 ruling that struck down the 2014 amendment rules mandating the pictorial health warning to cover 85% — image and text — of the tobacco product packaging space on the ground that they are arbitrary and violated constitutional norms. It also held that the earlier 40% warning norm should be restored. The companies through senior counsel Kapil Sibal argued that the central government had failed to provide any empirical evidence to prove that such textual warnings really discouraged people from consuming them. The manufacturers had questioned why they should be compelled to print such textual warnings along with horrid images when the co-relation between their product and the diseases had not been established.
The HC order came on various petitions filed by Tobacco Institute of India, cigarette manufacturers like ITC, beedi and other tobacco products manufacturers. Various petitions against the 2014 rules filed in different HCs were transferred to the Karnataka High Court by the Supreme Court in May last year. Cigarette and other Tobacco Products (Packaging and Labelling) Amendments Rules 2014 that came into force from April 1, 2016. The 2014 Rules made it mandatory for tobacco manufacturers, sellers and advertisers to have textual warning coupled with images on the packets.
Different high courts had passed conflicting decisions on the issue.