GUWAHATI, May 5 - Anti-tobacco campaigners across the nation have welcomed the directive of the Supreme Court to tobacco companies to implement the new rule of 85 per cent pictorial health warnings on both sides of the tobacco packets.
The apex court passed the directive yesterday, staying an earlier order of the Karnataka High Court which had prevented implementation of these rules, and directed that all matters (27 writ petitions) would be heard by one court, i.e., the High Court of Karnataka, in the next eight weeks.
The tobacco industry �should not violate any rule prevailing as of today,� the two-judge bench said. �We are making it very clear that no High Court order is valid until the matter is fully disposed by the Karnataka High Court,� the apex court said.
�We welcome the Supreme Court directive that also clarified that the pictorial warning rules of 2014 have come into effect from April 1, 2016, and therefore, all steps should be taken to enforce the order and petitioners cannot violate the notification issued by the Health Ministry,� Ruchira Neog, executive secretary, Voluntary Health Association of Assam (VHAA), said.
She added that enforcement of the new pictorial warning rule would bring greater awareness about the serious and adverse health impact of tobacco use, especially among youth, children and the illiterate.
Dr AC Kataki, Director of Dr B Borooah Cancer Institute (BBCI), termed it as a welcome development, saying that enforcement of the SC directive would have a long-term positive bearing on reducing the tobacco menace.
�Many cancers are directly attributable to tobacco consumption and this makes a strong case for a strong and conspicuous warning. Tobacco addiction in different forms is growing and it is entrapping a big population of children and teenagers. A visually effective warning on tobacco packs is a must,� he said.
The Indian Medical Association (IMA) has also welcomed the SC directive. �Ideally, tobacco products should be banned in the country, and if that is not possible, 85 per cent pictorial health warnings is a must. It is a victory not only for the medical profession but also for people at large,� it said in a statement.
Meanwhile, in another positive development, the Golden Tobacco Co and a few chewing tobacco companies have started implementing the 85 per cent pictorial health warnings on both sides of their packs on their brands like S-Four, Khuber Khaini, Panama Cigarette, etc. The packets bear April 2016 as the manufacture date. All these are the known brands and are the most selling ones.
�By implementing the 85 per cent pictorial health warnings, both Golden Tobacco Co and the chewing tobacco companies have shown that there were no issues in the implementation of the new health warnings. It�s practical in implementing the new tobacco health warnings and if these companies can implement the new health warnings, why can�t the others?� Neog said.
Anti-tobacco campaigners argue that the logic given by other cigarette companies like ITC, Godfrey Philips and the beedi industry are all baseless now.
�Tobacco companies� claims about limited branding space due to the size of the pictorial health warnings are unwarranted. Cigarette brands like Golden�s Gold Flake, Panama and chewing tobacco brands like S-Four, Khuber Khaini, etc., have already printed the 85 per cent pictorial warnings on both sides, which demonstrates that there is sufficient space for brand names, etc., and is a clear testimony that this is practical and possible,� Neog said.
According to anti-tobacco campaigners, another tobacco industry argument suggesting an increase in illicit trade due to the larger pictorial health warnings is a myth perpetuated by the industry. They point out that factors that determine illicit trade include the Government�s ability to enforce tax measures and collect duties, the ease and cost of smuggling tobacco in a country and the extent of tobacco industry participation in such trade activities.
�As a matter of fact, prominent pictorial warning on tobacco products will enable enforcement agencies to identify illegal/smuggled cigarettes and help them to seize non-compliant products,� they say.